Northwest showing increase in moose

Associate Editor

Grand Rapids, Minn. After six consecutive surveys when their
numbers decreased including last year when the drop was estimated
to be greater than 50 percent the number of moose located in
northwest Minnesota increased this year, according to Dr. Mark
Lenarz, of the DNR’s forest wildlife populations research group at
Grand Rapids.

Researchers estimated the northwest moose population to be 883
following surveys conducted in January. Last year, the count was an
estimated 560.

“The estimate is up and the precision is much improved,” Lenarz
said. “I’m not convinced last year’s estimate was good, but the
estimate this year may indicate the population has stabilized.”

Last year, snow conditions were marginal, while this year there
was 100 percent snow cover and more moose were sighted, Lenarz
said.

Moderate to good conditions last year, compared to ideal
conditions this year, coupled with other factors, significantly
increased the DNR’s level of confidence in the northwest surveys
this year.

Perhaps more importantly, this year’s survey indicated the
percentage of calves to cows (expressed as the number of calves per
100 cows) may have stabilized.

For the third consecutive year, there were 48 calves per 100
cows.

“That’s been one of the problems we’ve identified as research
went on because of the low percentage of cows getting pregnant,”
Lenarz said.

Moose estimates have varied from a high of 4,086 in 1984-85 to
3,452 in 1992-93 before the population began a steady, and
sometimes rapid, decline.

Researchers have found an inordinate number of cows failing to
get pregnant. The pregnancy rate, normally 85 to 90 percent, has
been about 40 percent for moose in this area. Further, starvation
has been noted at times of year when forage is readily
available.

The DNR also calculates the number of bulls per 100 cows. This
year, that number increased from 118 bulls per 100 cows last year
to 165 bulls per 100 cows this year.

“That number doesn’t seem to tell us much in Minnesota,” Lenarz
said. “The number always is well up there in this state.”

However, the number bears significance in other states where
hunters may target bulls only, or where a permit application isn’t
required to hunt moose. In Alaska, he said, the ratio can drop to
as low as 20 bulls per 100 cows.

In northwest Minnesota, Lenarz suspects the number of bulls is
high because when there’s a hunting season, hunters target bulls.
There’s not a season on moose in the northwest part of the state.
Furthermore, researchers in the northwest have found a higher
mortality rate in adult cows.

Northeast estimate up

While the population estimate in the northwest jumped up for the
first time in several years, the estimate in the northeast was up,
but reflected a fluctuating, but relatively steady, moose
population.

With good survey conditions, the DNR projected a moose
population in the northeast of 3,879 animals. For the past several
years, the population estimate has remained between 3,500 and 4,000
moose, Lenarz said. Last year, the survey estimated a moose
population of 3,733.

There were 61 calves per 100 cows this year, a number Lenarz
deemed “a little above average.”

What that means for hunters is a moose season similar to the
last hunt, held in 1999, according to Lenarz. That year, 189
“either-sex,” “once-in-a-lifetime” moose permits were available.
Seventy-two percent of the hunters successfully harvested a
moose.

A hunt wasn’t held in 2000 because of DNR funding shortages.
Funding has since been restored, as has the annual moose hunt.

Lenarz said the 2000-01 survey was the fourth in a row in which
the DNR has attempted to conduct the surveys within a two-week
window as close to Jan. 1 as possible. Past surveys have shown
different time periods and extended surveys tend to skew sample
numbers.

Researchers began this year’s survey

Jan. 2 and finished in just over two weeks.

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