Moose who traditionally live in the forest are now moving to the prairies

Published: March 12, 2018

Moose on Saskatchewan prairie Photo by Ryan Brook

Moose are traditionally forest animals. They like the cover offered by trees, the proximity to lakes and ponds, and of course the presence of vegetation that they need for sustenance. However, biologists in Alberta have noticed that more moose are making the decision to leave forested regions of the Rocky Mountains and live in the prairies, even going so far as to enter cities.

The reason? Food, of course.

“They’re very opportunistic,” biologist Chris Fisher told the CBC. “On the prairies . . . there’s a lot of grain that is spilled after harvesting so there is a lot of good food. For an animal that is used to eating splintered wood most of the winter, all this spilled grain and canola is like a Michelin five-star restaurant. It’s a great banquet for them.”

While the prairies weren’t exactly an ideal home for moose in the past, changes in recent years have made it much more appealing to them. Regions that used to be covered in homesteads are now virtually abandoned, and predators like grizzly bears and wolves that used to be all over the place have nearly vanished. In Saskatchewan, increasing rainfall has created marshy areas that resemble moose’s preferred wetlands.

A moose sniffing at a car
A moose had to be relocated — twice — out of Muenster, Saskatchewan this winter. [Credit: Darcie Anderson]

While the changes in the landscape are proving beneficial for moose, it remains to be seen how their relocation will affect the other people and animals living in the area. Moose can consume a lot of food, and their munching on grains may cause crop damage. And emboldened moose may begin to see cities as an appealing source of further food. Already this winter, moose have been seen in the city of Calgary (including one who famously came to check out Olympics coverage on TV).

A spokesperson for Alberta Fish and Wildlife has warned people who spot a moose to go in the other direction. Moose are massive animals often weighing 1,500 pounds and can easily injury a human if spooked. Drivers heading through prairie regions near the Rockies should also keep an eye out for animals by the road.

If nothing else, the sudden of influx of moose on the prairies is good news for hunters, who may ultimately contribute to keeping the animals’ numbers under control. For now, though, scientist are keeping an eye on the situation and what impact the moose will have.

If their presence does create issues for people in the prairies, we just hope humans can follow the moose’s example — and adapt.

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