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home : columns : ron kuecker November 25, 2015

2/20/2013 2:39:00 PM
2013: Wolves now outnumber moose in Minnesota

Ron Kuecker
Outdoors Columnist

I'm probably like most people in Minnesota. I haven't seen or been around moose all that much yet I am intrigued, infatuated or at the very least interested in them. How can these big animals even exist on this planet so over-populated by two-legged uprights?
In fact, one of my best sightings of moose was the four big bulls we saw bedded together below us from a ridge high in the Rockies southwest of Bozeman, Mont., while on an elk hult. And then there was the bull, friend Doug Anderson of Slayton, boated alongside and pulled hair from while we were fishing the Churchill River.
Crazy, but quite a trophy back at camp.
My interest in the well-being of moose started back in the early '60s as a veterinary student at the University of Minnesota. There, we learned of the consequences of a deer parasite that would occasionally get lost while migrating through an abnormal host, the moose.
The deer lungworm shed its eggs in deer droppings, later to be accidentally ingested by a moose grazing in the same area. Hatching into its larval form, but lost in its non-typical new host, it would occasionally find its way to the moose's brain.
Struggling through that soft tissue, it would wriggle a pathway of damage to nerve cells wherever it went. It often left a large adult in mental disarray. Externally, those big animals could become disoriented, lose their desire to feed, debilitate and die, either alone in the woods or to the sharp fangs of a wolf.
So, what you read here today is not first hand, on-site knowledge, but what I've gained over a lifetime. It includes occasional excursions into their habitat and a collecting of books, magazines and newspaper articles for decades.
My wife would call it a pile of newsprint overly saved in a corner of my office. I call it simply, documented literature review.
Wolves 3,000,
moose 2,760
This past year wolves and moose crossed paths again and again. Only this time it wasn't just in their shared woody habitat. More importantly, they crossed paths in total numbers in our state.
According to a well-done aerial survey by the Minnesota DNR in January, 2013, moose numbers have fallen to 2,760. Comparing that to the estimated 3,000-plus wolves present, you can now see the grey wolf numbers in Minnesota have surpassed that of the moose.
Coincidental? I hardly think so, although some would argue.
Here is what has happened to moose numbers in Minnesota. The northwest population once estimated at near 4,000 was last counted at 84. Overall, moose numbered 8,840 as recently as 2006. Now, it numbers 2,760.
Wolves, with estimated numbers at over 3,000, were hunted and trapped last fall for the first time since being put on the Endangered Species List (ESL) in 1973. The quota of 400 for the first year, 2012, was easily reached and the seasons were closed earlier than expected. This convinced many the population estimate was probably low, as they had previously stated.
Here's an early bottom line on the moose/wolf population situation in Minnesota. There is a wolf hunting season in Minnesota. There will be no moose hunting in the foreseeable future.
Some wolf statistics
• In 1980, Wyoming had one wolf left in the wild.
• In the mid 1990s, 66 wolves were transplanted from Canada into the Northern Rockies.
• Wolves prospered far better than expected because of a naive population of ungulates (deer, moose, etc.) not used to coping with pack animal predators.
• In 1992, the Jackson, Wyo., moose herd was estimated at 4,640. In 2011 it had dropped to 896.
• The Targhee, Wyo. moose herd was estimated at 880 animals in 1996. By 2009, it had dropped to 181.
• Idaho had an estimated wolf population in their state in 1995 of 14. By 2008 it was 856.
• The state of Maine has essentially a stable moose herd. They have no wolves.
• Cougars also prey heavily on moose in western Canada. A three-year study showed they average taking 0.8 ungulates per week. That equals about 40 deer per year. "We had one male cougar kill 18 moose in less than a year," Kyle Knopf, lead investigator, said.
• One person knowledgeable about wolf sub-species feels that a larger, darker, more deadly wolf, has migrated into or been introduced into the lower 48 states.
• The best part of a new Minnesota DNR moose study has them collaring 50 moose calves. That is where, for the first time, calf mortality at the fangs and feet of wolves and black bears can be studied.
Need more?
The "wolf protectors" are once again filing an appeal of the hunting on wolves in Minnesota. My question is, why don't they fuss over the plight of the "Minnesota Moose" just as much?
Aha, there's the answer. It's difficult to have both without wolf hunting.

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