ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Ask any adventurous Minnesotan for a favorite wilderness memory and you’ll likely hear about a howling wolf, northern lights or the sight of a moose.
Many northern Minnesota residents say it’s probably the number one thing they get asked: Where is the best place to go see a moose?
Sadly, moose sightings are increasingly rare as the population has fallen a whopping 58 percent over the past 10 years — from over 8,840 animals in 2006 to just 3,710 in last January’s aerial survey.
Alarmed by the rapid decline, Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources launched a moose mortality study in February 2013. Researchers placed radio transmitting collars on 173 moose and followed the data. Eventually, 57 of the collared animals died, which resulted in badly needed information.
The moose were tracked and their carcasses recovered for research and laboratory testing.
According to the research, 32 percent were killed by wolves, 30 percent died from parasites and 21 percent died as the result of bacterial infections. Accidents, giving birth and other health issues killed the remaining 17 percent of moose.
The latest findings cause growing pessimism that moose can make a full recovery. That’s because only one in every three calves born in the spring of 2016 survived to the January 2017 survey.
Without a new population of moose to replace the adults lost to mortality, the Minnesota population stands little chance of ever thriving again.
Betsy Daub, the science and conservation director for the advocacy group Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, just guided students on a canoe trip last week.
“We asked them ahead of time what they hope to see, and moose was always on the list,” Daub said.
In light of the latest DNR findings, the horizon looks doubtful.
Amid the majesty of the north woods is a mystery that needs to be solved.
“It’s way too soon to throw in the towel on this really important and wonderful, vital part of that region of the world,” Daub said.