Moose Decline in Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) has released a Moose Advisory Committee report and a 2011 moose survey [here] that avers that “Northwestern Minnesota’s moose population has declined from a population of several thousand in the late 1980s to fewer than 100.”

In NE Minnesota the moose population has dropped 25% over the last seven years:

Figure 2. Point estimates, 90% confidence intervals, and trend line of estimated moose numbers in northeastern Minnesota, 2005-2011.

and the cow/calf ratio has dropped to below 10%.

Figure 3. Estimated calf:cow ratio and % calves from aerial moose surveys in northeastern Minnesota.

As a rule of thumb, cow/calf ratios must be above 20% to maintain population levels. The current ratio portends continued moose decline. Indeed, the report states, “Estimated recruitment from this year’s survey was at an all time low.”

Surprisingly, the Moose Advisory Committee (MAC) report makes absolutely no mention of wolves or other predators. None, zip, zero, nada. This despite the fact that there are now over 3,500 wolves in Minnesota [here], ten times the population in 1974.

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The Source of the Harmless Wolf Myth

Note: Dr. Valerius Geist, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science at the University of Calgary in Alberta, is a renowned expert in wildlife management and conservation practices. In addition to teaching, writing about, and lecturing on the subjects, Dr. Geist has performed years of in-the-field research on big game species. He has authored 16 books, seven documentary films and contributed 40 entries to various encyclopedias. Two of his papers are posted in the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Wildlife Sciences [here, here]. Other essays by Dr. Geist are [here, here, here, here, here, here]

The effects of thousands of impoverished trappers and wolf bounties in northern Alberta early in the 20th century on predators, and its relation to the myth of the harmless wolf.

by Valerius Geist

I have been digging into historical literature in my quest to understand why in North America the myth of the “harmless wolf” took such a such a severe hold, to the point of perverting scholarship and quite probably leading to the death of some believers.

The conventional view of the harmless wolf, which I also believed in throughout my academic career and four years into retirement, is in sharp contrast to experiences elsewhere. Yet, it certainly coincided with my personal experience pre-1999 when a misbehaving pack of wolves settled about our and our neighbor’s properties at the edge of a farming district in central Vancouver Island. I subsequently discovered that the wolves were much the same in their behavior, whatever their origins, but that circumstances lead to vastly different outcomes.

In general, the evidence indicates that wolves are very careful to choose the most nutritious food source most easily obtained without danger. They tackle dangerous prey only when they run out of non dangerous prey, and they shift to new prey only very gradually, following a long period of gradual exploration. Wolves are very sensitive to strangeness, including a potential prey species strange to them. Garbage is the easiest and safest food source for wolves, and they do take advantage of such. Once they are habituated to people due to their proximity, they may begin to investigate people. The ultimate exploration of a strange prey by a carnivore is to attack — consequently, the danger from habituated wolves. However, they need not have garbage, just a shortage of prey to begin investigating and eventually attacking humans. This means that as long as wolves have sufficient natural prey, they leave livestock aloe. As long as they have livestock they leave humans alone. When short of natural prey and livestock they turn their attention to humans and their habitations and may even break into such to extract cattle, horses, pigs, sheep or poultry. Dogs and cats are attacked before that. We humans are next in line, primarily children. But even then the initial attacks are exploratory in nature and clumsy, allowing some victims to escape. However, this scenario is of exceptional scarcity in North America, though it is practiced occasionally by coyotes targeting children in urban parks.

The discrepancy, however, between global and conventional American experiences with wolves is crass. Wolves have killed thousands upon thousands of people as chronicled by European and Asian sources, yet in North America fatal attacks are few and disputed. The differences are real. What then was going on in the past century in North America to make wolves so harmless? I felt I had obtained part of the answer that showed that wolves are wolves wherever they occur, but that circumstances can generate very different outcomes in wolf behavior.

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Wolf Control Works

by David Johnson, Outdoors Directory [here]

In the mid `70s, early in my career as an Alaska state wildlife biologist, the Associated Press distributed a picture of me nationwide. I was standing in front of wolf pelts ADF&G was auctioning in Fairbanks. A Lower 48 reader clipped the photo and inscribed it: “This is so you can show your children what wolves looked like when they become extinct.”

That they are not extinct, or even remotely in danger of becoming so in Alaska, now more than a quarter century after that photo, is obvious. Why else would we still be having rancorous discussions about managing wolves?

Standing above the rancor is the simple reality that properly applied wolf control works. An example from the wolf control program that resulted in the wolf hides I had my picture taken with illustrates.

When we started the Tanana Flats wolf control program in the mid-1970’s moose and caribou numbers were low and falling. Wolf numbers were high. Ten years later, and some years after the program ended, there were more of each: more moose, more caribou, and…here’s the punch line….the wolf population had bounced back to a larger size than when we started.

In the early 1980’s, as an area biologist in Delta Junction, I watched as wolf control had a similar impact on moose numbers. Today, moose and wolves are again abundant around Delta.

Wolf control doesn’t always work. For example, when bear predation of young ungulates is the primary mortality factor, wolf control has a much smaller impact. Intelligent application is the key.

Wolf control programs also may not work if they are operationally hobbled. If insufficient numbers of wolves are removed from a population, the advantage for the ungulate populations will not be achieved. Depending on the circumstances, game managers with substantial knowledge of pack distribution and movements may have to use helicopters to control wolf numbers. The efforts of trappers and hunters alone are usually insufficient to achieve real control.

Romantic notions of the “balance of nature” lead easily to the false conclusion that if we simply “let nature take its course,” abundance will naturally result. The historical reality is that much of Alaska was hungry country when US Army explorers began to penetrate the Interior in the late 19th century. Some of these parties nearly starved for lack of game. The Athabascan inhabitants of the Interior often struggled with starvation. The “balance of nature” there seems to have been weighted more toward scarcity than abundance.

I believe our choice today is either wildlife abundance, maintained by intelligent management of ungulates, their habitats and their predators, or what will likely be long periods of limited numbers of prey species like moose and caribou, as the 19th century explorers found.

As a younger man I scorned what I considered to be emotionally motivated arguments against good wolf management. I could then and still plainly see the potential for wildlife abundance in Alaska….an abundance that includes both predators and prey.

Today, I have more sympathy. I have come to understand that some of the best things in life cannot be decided or even understood on the basis of logic. I have come to sincerely respect the perspectives of those who are hurt by even the thought of wolves being killed. In the calculations we as a society make about this issue, we fail to acknowledge as honest and important these sentiments only at peril to our humanity. National Parks and special state areas should be an important contribution to meeting this valid emotional perspective.

But I also have observed with my own eyes that that intelligently applied wolf control works. It can provide a balanced abundance of prey and predators for subsistence, recreational and aesthetic uses. Alaska is poorer today for having failed to appropriately manage wolves in many yesterdays now gone by.

The main question, in my mind, is whether we want an Alaska with abundant wildlife or an Alaska where wolf populations are not actively managed with occasional lethal control. The evidence suggests to me that we cannot have both.

David Johnson is an Alaskan and retired state wildlife biologist and supervisor who worked in Fairbanks, Delta Junction, Juneau and Anchorage during his ADF&G career. He is currently the webmaster of OutdoorsDirectory.com and general manager of Outdoors America Communications.

James Swan: the myth of the harmless wolf

James Swan, author of the book “In Defense of Hunting” [here] has written an excellent synopsis of wolf issues with emphasis on the dangers that uncontrolled wolves pose to wildlife and humans.

Selected excerpts:

Recent wolf attacks on humans raise calls for proper management

By James Swan, ESPNOutdoors.com, April 24, 2023 [here]

On March 9, 2010, Candice Berner, a 32 year-old special education teacher working in Chignik Lake, Alaska, went jogging at dusk on a road near town and was attacked and killed by wolves.

On October 28, 2009, Canadian folk singer Taylor Mitchell was hiking in a Provincial Park in Nova Scotia when she was attacked and killed by two coyotes, which were subsequently identified by park rangers as a wolf-coyote hybrid.

In November of 2005, college student Kenton Carnegie was hiking on a road near Points North Landing in northern Saskatchewan when he was attacked and killed by wolves. There was some dispute over whether Carnegie was killed by wolves or a bear, but a provincial inquest found that wolves were responsible.

The attacking wolves in these three incidents were not rabid.

Because more than 90 percent of the population lives in urban areas and relies heavily on electronic screens to get information, most people today form opinions based on books, films and what people say.

For decades we have been told and taught that wolves have never attacked people in North America. The Internet Movie Database lists over 150 film and TV titles with the words “wolf” or “wolves.” There was only one found about wolf attacks: “The Man-Eating Wolves of Gysinge” (2005), a TV drama based on the true story of a wolf that terrorized a rural Swedish community and kills 10 children.

PHOTO GALLERY [here]

http://sports.espn.go.com/outdoors/hunting/photogallery?id=5131655

We’ve also been told that children’s fairy tales about the “Big Bad Wolf” were created to keep children home at night, and do not paint a realistic portrait of wolves.

Some light on wolf-human encounters was shed in 2002 when Alaskan wildlife biologist Mark McNay published a report of a two-year study documenting 80 aggressive encounters between wolves and people in North America in the 20th century.

In only 12 of the attacks were the wolves rabid. Since McNay’s report came out there have been three fatal attacks by healthy wolves, and an unknown number of non-fatal aggressive encounters and attacks on people and their pets in the U.S. and Canada. So what’s up?

“In Wolves In Russia,” Will Graves reports on a long history of wolf attacks on people in Eurasia, especially Russia, Pakistan, India and Kazakhastan, including thousands of fatal ones. …

Not nearly as many people in Eurasia are armed. As Graves points out, in Russia the populace was kept unarmed to prevent revolutions and reports of wolf killings were also suppressed to keep people from demanding to be armed. Our perspective on wolves is based on our experience, which is different from people abroad. All three peopled recently killed by wolves were unarmed. …

There are at least 6,000 wolves in the Northern Rockies and Northern Great Lakes states, 40,000 to 50,000 wolves in Canada and 7,700 to 11,200 in Alaska — 65,000-70,000 wolves for all of North America.

Wolves live in wild places, where there are few people, at least until recently. In recent years, especially since Canadian wolves were released into the Northern Rockies in 1995, the North American wolf population has doubled. Elk and deer herds have been dramatically reduced in some areas.

In 1995, when wolves were first re-introduced to the Northern Rockies, there were 19,000 elk in the Northern Yellowstone herd. By 2008, the herd was reduced to 6,000. Current estimates place the herd at less than 5,000. The moose herd in that area has dropped below 1,000.

Similarly, in 1994 there were 9,729 elk in District 10 of the Lolo Basin in Idaho, and 3,832 in District 12. By 2010, the elk herd in District 10 had plummeted to 1,473, and in District 12 in 2010 there were 705.

Such dramatic declines have moved the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to move from a position of what RMEF President David Allen describes was “sitting on the fence about wolves,” to its present stance, which favors “managing wolves like other predators, because their population numbers have soared way over the benchmark goals of the re-introduction as elk herds have declined by 80 percent or more in certain areas of the Northern Rockies.”

A recent study by Mark Collinge of the USDA APHIS Wildlife Services office in Boise, Idaho, finds “that individual wolves are much more likely to prey on livestock than are individuals of any other predator species in Idaho.”

As wild prey declines, wolves will look for food elsewhere. Noted Canadian wildlife biologist Dr. Valerius Geist finds that wolves (and coyotes, too) constantly test boundaries as they look for their next meal.

When normal prey is scarce, and they aren’t challenged by people, both wild canids progressively move closer and closer — preying on livestock, pets, garbage, etc. until they experiment with humans as food. “Habituation,” it’s called. It spells “trouble.” …

Wolves enjoy killing. It’s well-documented that on occasion they will run amok among herds of livestock, deer and elk, killing as many as they can, not eating their prey.

David Allen of RMEF, Don Peay of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and Steve Alder from Idaho for Wildlife, all cite numerous examples of wolves attacking and killing large numbers of elk and livestock and not touching the carcasses as food. All three organizational leaders add that the elk killed by wolves are not just the sick, lame or aging, but very often healthy elk, especially calves and yearlings. …

Since wolves were introduced into the Northern Rockies in 1995, more than 1,000 have been killed by animal control. ….

David Mech recently has said that regulated hunting of wolves is not a threat to the species survival. Wolves no know political boundaries. They are here to stay.

Wolves are smart, prolific, and adapt quickly. Mech says that so long as there is adequate food and habitat it’s necessary to kill off between 28 and 53 percent in an area just to keep that wolf population stable. In 2009, hunters killed 22 percent of the wolves in Idaho and 14 percent of the wolves in Montana.

Cal Grown, Director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, says that declining elk populations in the state could lead to more liberal wolf hunting seasons in 2010. This will cause some people to howl, but will it threaten the survival of wolves?

“If the animal rights folks were truly just concerned about wildlife diversity they would leave the sportsmen and the states alone to manage the wildlife, including wolves. The U.S. has had the most successful wildlife model in the world for a century and it is due in large part to the American sportsmen. But I don’t believe that wildlife diversity is really their agenda or end goal; anti-hunting is their agenda,” says David Allen.

There are efforts afoot to return wolves in the Northern Rockies to the Endangered Species list. If you would like to voice your support to continue delisting wolves, a new website has been established, www.biggameforever.org, that will have an online petition. The goal is getting 100,000 signatures. … [more]

Minnesota Wolves

There are now an astonishing 3,500 wolves in Minnesota. That is more than 10 times the population in 1974, when wolves became a federally protected animal that may not be hunted or trapped.

Several attempts have been made by the USFWS to delist Minnesota wolves, but Federal judges have enjoined delisting in response to lawsuits filed by the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) [here].

It is widely recognized that Minnesota has too many wolves and they are not in danger of going extinct. According to the Minn DNR [here]:

“Everybody’s recognized that wolves have recovered in MN,” explains Dan Stark, Minnesota’s DNR Wolf Expert.

Everybody, that is, but HSUS:

Minnesota DNR wolf experts say conflicts like these could be better managed if wolves were taken off the Federal Endangered Species List and managed by the State.

The DNR successfully implemented its own plan for state wolf management during a span of 18 months beginning in 2007. However, several lawsuits from animal protection groups put the wolf back on the list in 2008. …

However, animal protection groups say Minnesota’s plan is misguided.

According to Howard Goldman, Director of the Minnesota Humane Society “The answer is pretty straightforward: the wolves have not recovered.”

How many wolves in Minnesota?

The DNR calculates Minnesota has up to 3,500 wolves, including more than 100 wolf packs. Populations in Michigan and Wisconsin’s are not as strong with only about 600 hundred wolves each.

Curiously, Minnesota moose and deer populations have crashed. The Minn DNR blames everything but wolves. It’s a moose mystery [here]. But don’t worry, they’ll bounce back [here].

The Humane Society? I bet you thought they were all about humane treatment of pets. Not hardly. In Minnesota wolves eat pets like candy [here]:

For a growing number of people living close to wilderness areas, dangerous wolf encounters and pets being lost to wolves, are an increasing cause of concern.

These reports, plus a recent situation in which a woman in Alaska was killed by a wolf pack, are contributing to mounting fear.

“Can you let your little kids play in your yard? I certainly wouldn’t,” said Gary Mitchell of Ely.

Many Ely residents are on full alert, keeping a close eye on their children as they play outside; others are thinking twice before letting pets run free.

Ely authorities confirm more than five dogs have been killed and eaten by wolves in the last three months.

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10 Feb 2010, 4:06pm
Moose Wildlife Agencies Wolves
by admin
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Too Hot for Moose?

It started out as a joke. At least, I thought it was a joke. A spoof, a satire on crappy wildlife ecology. But evidently it was for real. Or surreal. The article:

What’s killing Minnesota’s moose?

By DOUG SMITH, Star Tribune, February 9, 2024 [here]

The bad news continues for Minnesota’s moose.

The population of the iconic animal in northeastern Minnesota has declined again, based on the latest aerial survey this winter by the Department of Natural Resources.

Wildlife researchers estimate that there are 5,500 moose in that region of the state. With a 23 percent margin of error, the estimate is not statistically different from last year’s estimate of 7,600, but it supports other evidence that the moose population is declining.

“We don’t believe the population dropped 2,000 in the past year, but it’s indicative that the population is declining and parallels everything else we’ve been seeing,” said Mark Lenarz, DNR wildlife researcher. “Our concern continues.”

Reasons for the decline are uncertain, but researchers continue to believe a warming climate is responsible. Minnesota, already at the southern fringe of the moose range, apparently is becoming inhospitable for the large animals. Moose are extremely heat-sensitive, and temperature readings in Ely show over the past 48 years, average summer and winter temperatures have increased substantially.

Moose aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon, but as their range shifts north, Minnesota’s population could continue to stumble.

“People come up here to catch fish and see wildlife,” said Bob Baker, owner of Gunflint Pines Resort and Campground on the Gunflint Trail, northwest of Grand Marais, Minn. “The moose is the one animal people want to see when they’re here, and its decline could impact tourism.”

Already in the northwest part of the state the number of moose has fallen from around 4,000 in the mid-1980s to around 100 today.

“There’s more and more evidence suggesting it’s related to climate,” Lenarz said. Higher temperatures can stress moose, making them susceptible to diseases and parasites.

OMG! Minnesota mooses are dying from gloooobal waaarming!! And there goes the tourism industry right along with them. Quick everybody, change your lightbulbs to the twisty, mercury-filled kind and/or pay more taxes. Definitely pay more taxes. That’ll save the mooses and the gawker/gaper businesses. Oh, and be sure to hire more wildlife ecologists!

Some of my correspondents were less amused than I was. One eminent wildlife scientist was perturbed at the idiocy in his own clan:

Mike, the same BULLSHIT appeared in Bioscience, and in Defenders magazine, without one word about predation, and as XXXXXX pointed out in an email in response to this nonsense, moose are NOT declining in Utah but increasing because we have no wolves. Yet. If warming was really killing off the moose, you would expect that moose in the SOUTHERN part of their range to be affected first, but they have not. Consider the moose population in Alberta, where moose are increasing in the agricultural zone, which is poor moose habitat, while at the same time moose are decreasing in the forest-mountain zones — BECAUSE there are neither wolves or grizzlies in the ag zone, while predators are common in the rest of the providence!!!!!!!!!

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