What’s Killing Minnesota’s Moose?
July 26, 2013 5:22 PM   Subscribe

The iconic monarch of the North Woods is dying at an alarming rate. Is it climate change, a brain-piercing parasite, or is something else to blame?
posted by brundlefly (40 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
How sad and disheartening. I was certain this was about Monarch butterflies. We're pretty much destroying everything, aren't we?
posted by HuronBob at 6:03 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

New England would be happy to send you some moose, Minnesota. We have plenty.
posted by maryr at 6:20 PM on July 26, 2013

Don't worry. Newfoundland is like a giant hard drive where we have backed up all your moose. We got this.
posted by oulipian at 6:28 PM on July 26, 2013 [26 favorites]

GPS tracking collars.
posted by jfuller at 6:35 PM on July 26, 2013

Excellent article.
posted by maryr at 6:38 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

this is odd - the increase in moose population in michigan's UP is flattening but so far, no decline
posted by pyramid termite at 6:47 PM on July 26, 2013

Winter ticks are also proliferating as the climate warms and can be found in the tens of thousands—sometimes even more than a hundred thousand—on a single moose

Um, I just don't what to say (other than I feel like bugs are crawling on me now).
posted by 445supermag at 6:52 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

New England would be happy to send you some moose, Minnesota. We have plenty.

I take it you didn't read the article, did you? They talk about how new england is starting to see similar effects, being at another southern end of their territory.
posted by usagizero at 6:55 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm sad. I love seeing moose when I'm up north, but I haven't for a few years and my kids might never see them up there.
posted by Area Man at 7:00 PM on July 26, 2013

We used to get moose in Iowa. Now they have celebrations of the last time this happened. I think it's been 30 years. I think if you kill enough of them that come close they eventually learn to not come close. If they don't learn there's not enough to worry about after a while. This phenomenon is just moving North. Eventually Canada won't have them either, but in this case I will blame poutine.

Moose Days
posted by cjorgensen at 7:03 PM on July 26, 2013

Didn't they reintroduce wolves in that area?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:28 PM on July 26, 2013

Maybe the science hasn't proven it yet, but it seems so obvious that the return of the wolves is a huge factor. I saw a moose in the BWCA last week, it was huge.
posted by chrismc at 7:59 PM on July 26, 2013

Hiking on Isle Royale we came into a campsite, saw a moose, and quietly backed out onto the trail and hiked quite a ways farther, juuuust in case she had a calf nearby.

Man, was that a big, beautiful beast.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:27 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by KokuRyu at 8:43 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

HuronBob: "We're pretty much destroying everything, aren't we?"

We're evolution's most efficient killing machine. We're so good that we're even trying to (indirectly) kill the one thing that's keeping us alive (and we're trying on multiple fronts, too!).

I take heart, though, in the fact that we're no match for nature. We're nothing more than Romans with a few more tidbits of knowledge. Nature will have the last laugh. (I hope)
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:22 PM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Wolves have also been reintroduced in Sweden and Norway and studies suggest that adult wolves kill 50 to 70 moose per year within their territory.

posted by three blind mice at 9:28 PM on July 26, 2013

The plight of the two cow moose found found discussed here was heart-breaking. One had a recent calf killed by wolves. had she died defending her calf?
The other had her body essentially rotting away on her. :(
Predators take advantage of weakened animals. It is part of the cycle of life. Predators have to eat too. They have hungry babies too.
The problem is these moose seem all to be vulnerable.
You'd expect most not to be so very ill at young ages. So I think it's ultimately climate change.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:06 PM on July 26, 2013


I thought it was strange that there was no mention of prions or chronic wasting disease in the article. But fast, accurate, and cheap CWD tests are routinely used by hunters and wildlife management agencies where the disease is endemic. And it looks like they're already being used in Minnesota. It's hard to imagine that the moose carcasses aren't being tested as well.
posted by peeedro at 10:19 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Boris and Natasha
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:31 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Zombie Mooses!...Meese?
posted by telstar at 11:05 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Had anyone established whether the corner population of noise was a natural, sustainable level of population?

Anyway, I'm not REALLY going to worry until the moose start coming back as zombies, determine to wreck unholy revenge on humanity, and eat pondweed.
posted by happyroach at 11:55 PM on July 26, 2013

Thanks for that info, Peedro, I didn't know prion tests were so available. My money would definitely have been on prions too, given the descriptions in the article, and given what I have read about prion/CWD in midwestern wild ungulates.

Incidentally I grew up eating mostly moose (and later deer when we moved to an area that lacked moose). We used to eat the brains too. Boy I sure wouldn't do that anymore.

I am not even sure I should be eating deer anymore, although we are now in the West coast where I believe prion disease hasn't caught on among the wild ungulates (deer and elk out here).

Are people aware that prion disease in deer is (as usual) the fault of the humans? In this case deer 'farmers' feeding meat to their captive deer populations. Really disgusting behavior. And of course it infected the wild populations and there you have it.
posted by jackbrown at 12:43 AM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I dated a woman from Maine in college. She told me "If a deer suddenly appears on a winter road, hit it. It's more dangerous to swerve and hit an icy patch, and the engine bock will take the worst of it.

"You see a moose suddenly appear, you swerve the fuck out the way and DO NOT hit that thing, because you'll take it out at the knees and a ton of meat will come through the windshield. Better to roll the dice on your seat-belt." The vulgarity is probably my addition.

Fast-forward several months and I'm driving us late at night on a wintery Maine road, Marie asleep in the passenger seat.

And what the fuck appears on the dark, unlit, icy, rural road in front of me? The BIGGEST FUCKING LAND MAMMAL I had EVER seen! I grew up in NYC. I learned to drive in Brooklyn traffic. SWEET ELVIS, I've been to the circus and I barely believe in Elephants. Animals just don't come that big without flippers!

Swerve left. Swerve right. Fishtail. Traction. Forward momentum and lack of meat-based death.


Marie wakes up, freaking out "What is it? What happened!?"

"MOOOOOOOSE! MOOOOOOOOSE!" I finally pulled it together enough to explain what happened. She congratulated me on remembering her advice.

It would suck to lose the moose. That is one impressive fucking beast.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:03 AM on July 27, 2013 [9 favorites]

I was the passenger in a similar incident about 12 years ago in Superior National Forest, except we didn't swerve enough and hit the moose. No one died but the minivan was fucked up and the moose looked injured as it ran off. The next day was the first day of moose season and the hunters we met in Tofte that evening were very interested in the location of the accident.

The front windshield crumpled inwards and the moose's head was very close to mine before it ran off. That image has stayed with me.
posted by Area Man at 4:19 AM on July 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Interesting. In Illinois we were told not to hit deer because they'd come through the windshield. So same advice you got for the moose, and same explanation.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 4:46 AM on July 27, 2013

Yeah, we have these road signs in Newfoundland.
posted by oulipian at 6:00 AM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

In Minnesota we're told to hit deer instead of swerving because of the difference in what insurance will cover in you're on the road vs. off the road.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:03 AM on July 27, 2013

I used to work the information desk in the gift shop on Crater Lake's rim. I've probably told this story before, but: one of the questions I was asked, on several occasions, was "when do deer turn into moose?" All I could do was stare at the people and wonder if they'd ever even seen a moose, because those things are breathtaking in a way even a male deer with a massive rack simply can't be. But my eventual answer was, "oh, they're different species."

In Oregon I also learned not to swerve for deer. More of a safety of others thing, though; when you swerve, you tend to stay on the road, meaning, you swerve into oncoming traffic. Better to kill a deer than other people. Never crossed a moose on Oregon roads; always thought they were smart enough that they kept off them. Apparently that's not the case though! I wouldn't have thought to brake or swerve off-road for one, so now I'm glad I never did see one while driving.

Some European friends visited me while I worked at Crater Lake. They had rented a car, and every time we went out, I repeated the Boondocks Driving Test: "what do you do when you see a deer in the road?" Correct answer: "keep going straight, don't swerve, check the rear view mirror, hit the brakes if no one's behind me, otherwise keep going and hit the deer." One evening, a deer finally showed up. Cue screaming of "OH MY GOD A DEER" and... swerving into oncoming traffic. One of the rare times in my life I've grabbed a steering wheel from a driver.

Turns out they hadn't actually believed me when I had told them that deer cross the roads. Sigh.

They also hadn't believed any of my stories about bears, which cost them their tents when a mother bear and her cubs tore them apart, the tents having been filled with food (food they had NOT put in the rental car trunk like I had told them to and they had claimed they'd done). One of the guys nearly bolted for his camera; I grabbed his arm and asked him if he wanted to die. Then they scoffed and asked what they should do to avoid death by mother bear with cubs. "Nothing. You shut up, don't move, and wait until you can't see her or the cubs any more." "BUT WE WON'T GET ANY PHOTOS!" Jesus H. Christ. I'm alive typing this, so yes, a group of tourists did not get any fricking photos of their close encounter five feet away from a fricking mother bear and cubs. It was beautiful, yes, the cubs were adorable roly-poly fluff-bugs, but damn, I have never felt so certain my life was in the balance. Mama bear stayed relatively easy-going, but always had one eye on us until her cubs were out of sight.

It's the same with moose, pretty much. Memories of how gorgeous they are, worth a heckuva lot more than any weak two-dimensional photo that can never put it across. Loved watching them snorf out in marshlands in the early mornings. I'm sure climate change has something to do with it, might not be the only cause, but hard to avoid it being one, as habitats everywhere are changing.
posted by fraula at 6:33 AM on July 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Maybe the science hasn't proven it yet, but it seems so obvious that the return of the wolves is a huge factor. I saw a moose in the BWCA last week, it was huge.
posted by chrismc at 7:59 PM on July 26 [+] [!]

The article provides pretty conclusive proof that that's not the case. It'd be nice to blame wolves, but the real solution is going to be harder than just getting rid of their predators, sadly.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:03 AM on July 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Some friends of mine were driving through northern Ontario a few years back. They were moving, and the husband was driving the moving truck, and the wife and another friend were in their car. At one point, they passed a moose on the side of the road, and later they were talking about why you don't want to hit a moose: "because they'll come right into the car." At which point my friend says, "Why? Do they bite?"
posted by sneebler at 7:31 AM on July 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

I live in N. Minnesota, and I'll never forget the summer I saw 12 moose on the side of the road to Isabella. It was so amazing. (They were wallowing in the mud next to the road to get rid of black flies.)

No, the wolves are not really the issue. And we didn't re-introduce them; they've been here all along.
posted by RedEmma at 7:34 AM on July 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

No moose here, but where I live there are whitetails in plenty. When I lived outside of town and was driving home every day in the dark, as soon as I turned off the four lane divided highway that had wide mowed strips on both sides onto two-lane roads with much narrower mowed borders (that didn't get mowed all that often either) I slowed down to the same speed I drive where cats, dogs, and children are likely to dart out in front of me from between parked cars. Saw many deer cross the road, some that I would certainly have hit if I had been driving the posted speed limit (55), but actually hit none. (Once one hit me, leaping up out of the weeds and bashing into my passenger-side door. Not a whole lot you can do about that. It bounded away apparently uninjured. I found deer hair stuck to the door but no blood. Continued on home after my heart rate came back down.)

Now I live in town in a well populated and built-up neighborhood and there seem to be more whitetails than ever. They turn out to be one of the creatures that do quite well among people. At least they're more picturesque than rats and roaches, they don't gnaw holes in your attic and hold midnight roller derby matches over your bed like squirrels, and they don't dump over your garbage can and rummage for pizza crusts like possums and raccoons. But they'll happily sleep in your carport and eat your azaleas. So my watch-out-for-kids driving speed in this neighborhood is now a 24-hour thing.

Last year I started seeing (and hearing) coyotes inside the city limits for the first time. This year the "somethin' new... in the neighborhood" is armadillos. Considering the dodo, the passenger pigeon, and so on, I'm not ready to go with the "life always finds a way" p.o.v. But some of it sure does.
posted by jfuller at 8:51 AM on July 27, 2013

At least they're more picturesque than rats and roaches, they don't gnaw holes in your attic and hold midnight roller derby matches over your bed like squirrels, and they don't dump over your garbage can and rummage for pizza crusts like possums and raccoons.

The problem for humans is that deer spread tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease (which may in fact be syndrome covering several tick-borne diseases, all spread by deer), and they can also be quite aggressive towards children.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:21 AM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hmmm, i thought the article showed, in the specific instances of moose deaths the writer observed, that wolves were a factor. Wolves have always been in norteastern MN, but the population is much higher now than in decades past so i dont see how that can be so easily dismissed as a factor in the declining moose population. Coupled with increasingly warm winters, the moose are obviously suffering.
posted by chrismc at 12:06 PM on July 27, 2013

Everybody knows moose can't drive.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:23 PM on July 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

deer 'farmers' feeding meat to their captive deer populations

What. The. Fuck.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:03 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's a Mad Mad Cow World
posted by KokuRyu at 5:56 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Moose are damn scary up close.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:24 PM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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