More moose sightings outside usual northeast Minnesota range
DULUTH -- More moose are being sighted outside of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and other parts of their traditional range in northeastern Minnesota as citizens respond to a plea for helping tracking the animals, but scientists disagree on the s...
DULUTH -- More moose are being sighted outside of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and other parts of their traditional range in northeastern Minnesota as citizens respond to a plea for helping tracking the animals, but scientists disagree on the significance of the reports.
More than 500 moose have been reported and more than 440 locations mapped in the 11 months since the University of Minnesota Duluth's Natural Resources Research Institute asked the public to report moose sightings, the Duluth News Tribune reported Monday. The reports are backed up by more than 200 photographs.
"If we can get this many reports in just 11 months, in so many places we really didn't expect people to see many moose, we probably have more than we think," said Ron Moen, a wildlife researcher with the NRRI.
Moen noted 40 percent of the reports have come from outside the area where the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources looks for moose during its periodic population surveys.
"These reports don't replace (scientific research), but they can help fill in some gaps and offer some new ideas on what we need to do next," he said.
The DNR broadly estimates there are about 6,000 moose in its core survey area in Cook, Lake and northeastern St. Louis counties. But the newspaper reported that no one knows if moose are hanging on, expanding or declining west of their traditional range because they aren't counted there.
"Minnesota's moose population clearly is larger than the number of moose reported from the annual survey area," Moen said. "We really don't know how much larger."
A contrary view comes from Mark Lenarz, who heads the DNR's Forest Wildlife Populations and Research Group. He said the public reports are interesting but of little statistical value.
"If people see a moose in the Boundary Waters, it's something they expect to see, it's not something they would feel compelled to report, so we probably won't get as many reports from there as you might expect," he said. "On the other hand, there are so few moose in the northwest now that people are going to be more likely to report it. So any comparison likely isn't very realistic."
And Lenarz said there have long been pockets of moose outside of their usual range.
Still, Moen is intrigued by the dozens of moose sightings in Koochiching, Itasca, northern Aitkin and western St. Louis counties of northeastern and north-central Minnesota.
While northeastern Minnesota's moose have been gradually declining, their population crashed in northwestern Minnesota.
Yet about 11 percent of all moose reported by the public have come from northwestern Minnesota. A combination of factors, likely spurred by rising temperatures over the past 25 years, reduced that area's population from more than 4,000 in the 1980s to about 84 when the DNR last checked in 2007. That population is so small it's impossible to conduct a scientific population survey.
But Moen said pockets of moose appear to be hanging on, possibly even growing, in the northwest.
"This clearly isn't scientific. But it gives us some indication that moose are persisting at some level in that area," Moen said. "It's not likely that people are seeing half or even 25 percent of the moose up there. ... That's 200 animals up there on the low end, and that's double what was last estimated."
Lenarz said the public sightings aren't enough to determine what's happening to northwestern Minnesota moose. But he said the DNR will go back into the area after five or 10 years and find a way to see if the remaining population there is hanging on or growing.
"We'll go back in, not every year, but at some point to see what's left up there," Lenarz said. The public reports "may well be different people seeing the same moose."