Moose populations declining at alarming rate in some North American regions

Cow and calf

Moose populations in North America are facing an alarming decline. Disease, predators, and climate change are all to blame for the fact that many moose calves are sadly not surviving their first year of life.

Seth Moore, a wildlife biologist who works at the Grand portage Trust Lands in Minnesota, told CBC that “The first year of life is the toughest for calves . . . they are easy prey for wolves and bears, and many succumb to diseases and other health issues.”

In Minnesota, 90 percent of the area’s moose calves die every year. “We lose about 75 percent of calves in the first couple weeks of life, mostly to predators, then another 15 percent due to natural health issues,” Moore said.

But Minnesota is not the only area facing this problem.

According to Parks Canada, the declining moose populations in Jasper, Alberta, can be attributed to deadly liver fluke, wolves, and railway and highway collisions on the tracks and roads that run through Jasper National Park.

Ryan Brook, a researcher at the University of Saskatchewan, says that “Canada has several populations undergoing alarming declines, such as in the Duck and Porcupine Mountain areas in Manitoba.”  Brook says that the problems moose populations face vary according to where they live. Along with Manitoba and Minnesota, Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia, and several other U.S. states are also facing declines in moose populations.

On the other hand, the Southern half of Saskatchewan has seen an increase in moose, and over the past 30 years, moose populations have made their ways from forests into farmland. Moose are also now appearing in large numbers in many areas of the Arctic Tundra.

This problem is not entirely new. In 2013, Nicholas DeCesare, biologist with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, told The New York Times, that “something’s changed.”

There is strong reason to point to climate change as the underlying cause of many of the health and survival issues moose populations are facing. For example, according to Moore, warm temperatures are a breeding ground for winter ticks and brain worms, and their transmission by deer to moose account for 20 percent and 40 percent of their deaths in Minnesota.

While declines aren’t happening everywhere, the areas facing declines are an issue of concern and are “something we really need to think about and take immediate action” on, especially considering that these declines could very well spread into places with stronger populations, Brook said.

CBC’s new documentary Moose: A Year in the Life of a Twig Eater, follows the first year of the life of a young moose calf in Jasper National Park, and draws attention the need to recognize the environmental impacts the North American moose population is facing.

According to Moore and Brook, the struggle to make it through this first year is crucial to sustaining populations across North America.