Moose Health in Montana and Minnesota

Minn moose collaringMontana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has begun a 10-year study of moose in the state to try to determine the cause of a 75 percent over the last 20 years, says an article in the Ravalli Republic. The article follows Montanta FWP biologist Nick DeCesare as he tracks one of his collared moose and finds that the moose is haggard, has blue eyes and appears to be blind — all symptoms of arterial worm.

Arterial worm is carried by mule deer, the article notes, and is carried by horseflies. (A situation similar to the brainworm that infects moose in the East, carried by white-tailed deer, although a snail is the vector there.) The arterial worm is a top suspect in moose declines in the West.

Read the whole article, with details of the study, in the Ravalli Republic, here. The article appeared in the newspaper through Science Source, a project of the University of Montana School of Journalism.

Last week a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources press release said that, “Aerial moose survey results for 2014 show no significant change in Minnesota’s moose population even though more animals were seen than last year.” Last year the estimate was 2,760, while in 2014 the estimate is 4,350. The department says the difference is statistically insignificant.

“The higher estimate this winter likely is related to ideal survey conditions rather than any actual increase in the population,” said Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager for the DNR. “This year’s heavy snows across northeastern Minnesota made it comparatively easy to spot dark-bodied moose against an unbroken background of white.”

The press release also mentions an adult and calf mortality study that is in its second year, and shows 21 percent mortality among adult moose and 74 percent mortality for calves. DNR will collar additional adults and calves to replace the ones that died in the study.

Read the Minnesota DNR press release here.
Read an article in the Austin (Minn.) Daily Herald, here.

Photo: courtesy Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Getting the Lead Out

lead - periodic tableTwo stories today focus on two different states’ efforts to get lead out of the environment.

An article in the Portland (Maine) Herald Press literally goes behind the scenes of the recent legislative ban on lead fishing gear in Maine, which was passed earlier this year, but won’t totally ban the lead gear until 2017. It goes into the lab of Mark Pokras, a Tufts University professor of wildlife health, who played a role in encouraging that legislation. Pokras has been studying lead poisoning in loons for over 20 years.

Pokras says that lead poisoning is responsible for the deaths of over a third of the loons that find their way to his lab in Massachusetts.

Read the story in the Portland Herald Press, here.

In Minnesota, studies show that a bad shot with a lead bullet (such as one that hits a hip bone), can cause lead to splinter throughout a white tailed deer’s flesh to the extent that it would be difficult, or impossible, to remove all of it. For the sake of public health, and also for the sake of the state’s bald eagles, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources encourages deer hunters to voluntarily use copper bullets.

The article details some of the differences between hunting with copper and lead bullets, which implies that a different technique may be more effective when using copper bullets.

Read the story in the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, here.

White Nose Fungus in Minnesota

In a Friday afternoon press conference, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced that it found the fungus that causes white nose syndrome in bats in a cave at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park and at the mine at Soudan Underground Mine State Park.

No bats with white nose syndrome symptoms have yet been found, but the finding is devastating for several reasons. First, Minnesota’s winters are long enough and cold enough to expect that white nose syndrome symptoms will appear and kill bats. Second, according to the Duluth News-Tribune the two sites are the state’s largest wintering locations for bats. Third, Minnesota represents a significant leap from the areas where the fungus has already been found, and the finding may be a sign that that the fungus has spread to the Midwest.

These article appeared before the press conference:
Duluth News-Tribune
Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Minnesota Withdraws Bear Researcher’s Permit

Black bearThe Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has not renewed the research permit of an Ely man because he hand-feeds the bears he studies and has not published a peer-reviewed article in the 14 years that he has held the permit, an article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press says.

The researcher hosts popular live Internet broadcasts of bear activities. He has argued that feeding bears is not harmful and is actually helpful to the relationship between humans and bears. At least one of his neighbors disagrees, the article says.

The DNR has told the man he must remove his collars from the bears by July 31.

Get all the details in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, here.
Minnesota Public Radio did a piece that was more sympathetic to the researcher, here.
See other stories here.

Photo: Not a bear from the study, or even Minnesota. Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Early Results in Minn. Moose Calf Study

Moose_CalfLate last month Minnesota Department of Natural Resources researchers collared 49 moose calves within hours of their birth, the Grand Forks Herald reports. Part of a larger study trying to solve Minnesota’s high moose mortality rate, the collared calves were born to collared mothers, a fact that allowed researchers to find them quickly after birth, the article says.

Results have come quickly, perhaps too quickly. Researchers knew that over half of all moose calves die within their first year. But already 22 of the calves, nearly half, have been found dead, mostly from predation by wolves and bears.

The study revealed other surprises. Of the moose that gave birth last month, 58 percent had twins, which was a higher rate than the researchers expected. They also found that the calves started eating plants earlier than had been previously thought.

The article says that the high adult death rate is the big issue in Minnesota, but a low rate of survival for calves is another concern. The 22 necropsies that will be performed on the dead moose calves should shed light on the issue.

More details in the Grand Forks Herald article, here.

Photo: A moose calf, although not from this study. By Leroy Anderson, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.


More on Minnesota Moose

Minn moose collaringLoss of early successional habitat, more wolves, and increased exposure to brainworm — those are the early theories on why the Minnesota moose population is plummeting. And that’s a whole lot of inference from just two dead moose.

The Duluth News Tribune has an update on the moose study begun by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in January. The DNR tagged 111 moose and planned to follow them for five years — deploying a team to investigate whenever one of the moose died. (We covered it here.)

So far six moose have died, the article says. Four of those deaths have been pinned on capture-related mortality. The percentage is about average for moose captures, the article says.

The two other moose were killed by wolves. The article reports on another researcher in conducting a separate study who found that one of his wolf-killed moose had pneumonia.

There are many more details about the early days of the study in the article. Read the Duluth News Tribune article here.

Photo: A moose being collared, but not necessarily for this project. Courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Minnesota Cancels Moose Hunt

MN moose_header“The state’s moose population has been in decline for years but never at the precipitous rate documented this winter,” said Tom Landwehr, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources commissioner in a press release announcing the cancellation of Minnesota’s moose hunting season.

The commissioner noted that the state’s limited moose hunt was not the cause for the population’s decline.

The 2013 moose hunt was cancelled after aerial survey revealed the sharp drop in the moose population, the press release says. The survey was part of an on-going study of the state’s moose decline. (Previously covered here.)

The hunt’s cancellation was covered on NBC News’ national news. Read the article here.
Read the Minnesota DNR press release here.
Read more about the department’s moose mortality research project, on its webiste, here.

Photo: courtesy of Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources

New Brass in Ala. and Minn.

chuck sykes alabamaThe Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries announced that Charles “Chuck” Sykes has been named director of the division. The division regulates hunting and fishing, manages wildlife populations, wildlife habitat, and freshwater fisheries for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the press release says.

Sykes received his B.S. degree in Wildlife Sciences from the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences in 1992, then worked as a consultant. He appeared on a television show on The Outdoor Channel for 11 years.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for me to work with everyone in our great state on behalf of our wildlife and natural resources. I look forward to it,” Sykes said in the press release.

Read the press release here.

In Minnesota, Barb Naramore has been as a new assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, a recent press release announced. Naramore is a Virginia native and has a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute. Until recently, she was the executive director of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association.

Photo: Chuck Sykes of Alabama, courtesy of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries

Minnesota Launches New Moose Study

Minn moose collaringA Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) study will fit 100 moose with GPS collars and implant a second device that can record temperature and heartbeat in 27 of the collared moose, a Minnesota DNR press release reports.

The goal of the study is to shed light on the mysterious decline of moose in the northern part of the state. From the press release:

“The decline in the northeast Minnesota moose population is exhibiting the same pattern of decline that we observed in the northwest,” said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager. “We’re losing about 20 percent of adult moose annually and know from previous studies that predation and hunting are not the primary causes of adult moose mortality. The decline is particularly troubling because more often than not, we can’t determine the primary cause of death.”

The study will collar 75 cows and 25 bull moose. When a collar stops moving for more than six hours (that twice the length of the average moose nap, notes an article in the Duluth News Tribune) the collar will send a text to DNR researchers so that the moose can be necropsied within 24 hours. The collared moose will be tracked for six years.

Read the detailed Minnesota DNR press release here.
Read the Duluth News Tribune article, which has some additional details and punchy quotes, here.
Watch Ericka Butler, DNR wildlife veterinarian, discuss the project on the Northlands NewsCenter website, here.
See more info on Minnesota’s moose research here, including a link to a five-page list of additional moose research projects.

Photo: A moose being collared, but not necessarily for this project. Courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Moose of “Special Concern” in Minn.

mooseThe the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ list of endangered, threatened and special concern species is due to get its first update since 1996, a DNR press release reports. While 302 Minnesota species will be affected, moose are getting all the attention.

The iconic north woods animal is proposed for listing as a species of special concern. The designation reflects a 50 percent decline in the number of moose in the state since 2005, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. There are now about 4,000 moose in the state.

What is causing the rapid decline is still a bit of a mystery, but a combination of disease, parasites and a warming climate appear to be the causes, the Star-Tribune notes.

CBC News reports University of Minnesota Duluth biologist Ron Moen as saying that wildlife managers in Ontario should keep an eye out for their own moose. The southern part of western Ontario shares a border with Minnesota.

As for why the gray wolf’s delisting in the other direction, from special concern to not on the list, is not receiving much attention, that’s because this year’s wolf hunting season (and the federal delisting) packed more punch than this proposed delisting.

Read the Star-Tribune article here.
Read the Minn. DNR press release here.
Get more details about the list changes, here.

Photo: Moose, courtesy MN DNR