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Minnesota Moose Mystery: Is Climate Change Killing this Icon of the North?

Minnesota Moose Mystery: Is Climate Change Killing this Icon of the North?

Written by Christine Lepisto

It seems like every third business in Northern Minnesota has “moose” in its name, reflecting the importance of the iconic mammal on local culture. But if current trends continue, the word on commercial signage may be the only trace left of the moose population in northern Minnesota.

An unexplained population crash in the northwestern corner of the state has led to the near extinction of the moose in that territory. Naturalists fear that moose in the northeastern quadrant are following the same pattern. Finding answers rivals a crime scene investigation, as the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Minnesota moose lovers seek answers that can help put a stop to further moose deaths.

Reports have attributed moose decline to climate change, but a local reporter this week says there are “still too many questions to link moose decline to climate change.” Marshall Helmberger, of the Ely Timberjay, fears that blaming climate change lets the DNR “off the hook” for the moose population collapse. Helmberger questions why moose elsewhere are not dying at similar rates, whether genetics or natural cycles play a role, if wolves may be to blame, and how forest management fits into the puzzle.

Clearly the Minnesota DNR realizes that the issues may be more complex than climate change alone, as evidenced by the Minnesota Moose Research and Management Plan, published late in 2011. Current research does not support the idea that wolves are killing off the moose. More likely culprits, including tick bites and brainworm parasites, may be thriving in warmer climates — leading to moose deaths indirectly related to climate change.

But the fact remains that most of the moose deaths (74%) directly observed in collared populations cannot be explained. The moose are simply dropping dead, often apparently from what the DNR describes as “heat stress”. If climate change is killing moose, the case may be out of our hands: action to limit climate change can only come too late. But until it can be proven that climate change is to blame, we agree with Helmberger: we dare not waste precious time that could be used to find manageable causes which could help to prevent the tragic loss of moose.

It is hard to imagine Minnesota without moose. Saving them will require that dedicated Minnesotans like Helmberger keep the pressure up to find answers to the questions, and that legislators fund and the DNR executes the moose research plans. Something to think about next time you swing by the Chocolate Moose.

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.


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Photo: rknickme/flickr

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10:11AM PST on Jan 13, 2013

Thank you TreeHugger, for Sharing this!

3:33PM PDT on Oct 28, 2012

Probably what's killing them is all the Uranium Disposition plants in Northern Minnesota, like in Grand Rapids. Minnesota has other Uranium Disposal plants in Mpls., Rochester, Duluth it's a shame what a beautiful place Minnesota is and so very close to the Great Lakes!

8:27AM PDT on Sep 21, 2012


9:41AM PDT on Sep 17, 2012

I hope not. I've been lucky enough to see a moose fairly close in the wilds of Colorado. Well, as close as I care to get. I read in the paper years ago a woman getting kicked in the face by one. I wondered if she thought "There's Bullwinkle. Let me go pet him.". They are magnificent animals and the world would be a lesser place without them.

12:24PM PDT on Sep 14, 2012

not the wolves are responsable I yhink
everybody in the northern states is locking nature behind fences
it is drilled to domestic-stress
bil clinton is an alcoholic
the beings in nature need buffer to place their sons and daughter in able to prevent incest

5:57AM PDT on Sep 8, 2012

I didn't know. Thank you.

10:10PM PDT on Sep 7, 2012

Sure hope they find the cause really soon and put plans into action to save them, when they find out why they are dying. They are really amazing animals and need to be saved.

6:25AM PDT on Sep 7, 2012

It is really sad especially knowing we cannot do much for them

8:52PM PDT on Sep 6, 2012


1:54PM PDT on Sep 6, 2012

This is really sad, I hope they find a way to help the moose :(

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