Fears rise about possible moose die-off in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and beyond

Moose

A growth rate in moose population appears to have reversed itself in places like Michigan and Minnesota – and experts are worried. Photo: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

A national trend in moose die-offs may be hitting Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – and climate change may be the culprit, experts say.

More parasites, disease, habitat destruction and heat stress are all suggested as reasons stemming from warmer weather.

Moose numbers studied in the western U.P. between 1997 and 2007 showed a growth rate of about 10 percent a year – a promising trend since moose were reintroduced there in the 1980s, said Dean Beyer, a Marquette-based moose expert with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

However, that rate has slowed to about 2 percent since then.

Other states have experienced significant drops in moose population since the 1990s, with one Minnesota herd dropping from 4,000 to 100 in that time.

The western U.P. moose are dispersed among parts of Marquette and Iron counties, as well as on Isle Royale, he said. A less-studied population exists in the eastern U.P. closer to Sault Ste. Marie.

“Something has changed,” said Beyer, a wildlife researcher, adding that he worries about the future.

“When you see your neighboring states’ population decline so rapidly and when you start to see our growth slow down, then perhaps the factors associated with decline there are starting to affect our herd.”

Possible reasons include infestations of parasites and disease associated with higher temperatures.

Other possible causes include heat stress and the warm-weather-thriving pine bark beetle that kills the trees moose use as camouflage from predators. That beetle was found as a part of a study of moose decline in the Cariboo Mountains of British Columbia.

“I don’t think anybody really knows exactly what’s going on, but one of the leading hypotheses is that it is climate change – increasing temperatures,” Beyer said.

“These are complex ecological systems and it’s unlikely that it’s going to be one factor or another. It’s more likely a suite of factors that are interacting together,” he said.

Beyer said that the way moose are built may not mesh well with changing temperatures:

When scientists look at moose distribution around the globe and at the southern edges of habitat, it’s associated with a cooler range of temperatures.

“There’s a sense that moose are built for the cold and they don’t do so well in warm climates, so as temperatures increase if climate change predictions are correct, we can expect the southern edge of the moose range in North America will move northward,” Beyer said.

That news may be bad for hunters also.

A 2010 state law made moose a game species as long as their population growth rate is at least 3 percent a year.

Amy Trotter, the resource policy manager at Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said, “We definitely support moose being categorized as a game species in Michigan, but science must determine what level of moose hunting is sustainable.

“Ongoing research and population surveys will be necessary to see how resilient the Michigan moose herd is,” she said. “If the growth rate reaches or exceeds 3 percent, we will support a limited hunt here in Michigan.”

Tom Nemacheck, executive director of the Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association, said, “They’re sort of an iconic animal.

“People come up in an attempt to see them, although 99 percent of people are not successful. They’re not exactly out on the roads looking for people.

“They go back into the deep, heavy, wet areas where they like to live, but people like to think about them. They like to think that they’re there and envision that they might find one,” Nemacheck said.

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  • Dave

    I think everyone missed the word “possible”, as in future, yet to happen (in Michigan). The one moose die off was quoted at, “Other states have experienced significant drops in moose population since the 1990s, with one Minnesota herd dropping from 4,000 to 100 in that time.”

    They also don’t know “exactly” what’s causing the issues, but they do have theories “and climate change may be the culprit, experts say. More parasites, disease, habitat destruction and heat stress are all suggested as reasons stemming from warmer weather.”

    And if the wolves are eatting the moose, isn’t that what nature intended.

  • Scoop

    Not even a remote possibility that wolves are playing SOME role? I mean what kind of reporting is that??? Look no further than Isle Royale.

  • Geoff

    Right on Jim. We have a bunch of climate change and anti Fracking noise makers in my area.

  • Jim

    What a heeping pile of dung! So no one knows what’s causing the die off, so it must be climate change? Give me a break. Even though it hasn’t been warmer over the last 10 years or so and this die off is just happening. You climate change zealots use this to explain everything that is happening. Flipping hilarious!

  • frank

    Regarding the moose die-off, Gov. Snyder and the DEQ/DNR predicted this in their 2011 Michigan’s Environment Triennial Report. To quote:

    Projections of climate change suggest that temperatures in Michigan will rise by 6-10˚ F in the winter by the end of the 21st century, which likely will be too warm for moose in the Upper Peninsula. As such, moose are likely to be an early indicator of climate change here in Michigan. Page 22 http://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/deq-2011-triennialreport_370437_7.pdf

    Unfortunately, this was the only climate change impact mentioned in their report. Hopefully, the 2014 report will address the many more devastating impacts of climate change that are occurring and are predicted to occur in Michigan. Michigan universities and our national institutions can really contribute to the next report with “scientific” evidence and predictions. Here are some examples:

    ANN ARBOR—Climate change will lead to more frequent and more intense Midwest heat waves while degrading air and water quality and threatening public health. Intense rainstorms and floods will become more common, and existing risks to the Great Lakes will be exacerbated. http://ns.umich.edu/new/releases/21105-climate-change-to-profoundly-affect-the-midwest-new-report-says

    More climate change impacts on the Midwest from the draft National Climate Assessment report:
    Decreasing agricultural productivity, habitats for many tree species driven northward, disruptions to forest ecosystems, .. degraded air quality, .. change in the range and distribution of important commercial and recreational fish species,.. increased invasive species, declining beach health, .. harmful blooms of algae, to name a few more. http://ncadac.globalchange.gov/download/NCAJan11-2013-publicreviewdraft-chap18-midwest.pdf

    Global warming impact allergies. Dr. Weber predicts that Michigan will see more ragweed in the fall because we don’t get a killing freeze as early as we used: http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/story/21809196/could-global-warming-impact-allergies

    Higher levels of CO2 benefits the growth of poison ivy whose growth and potency has doubled since the 1960s, With CO2 rates expected to rise from 400 parts per million to 560 ppm in the next 30 to 50 years, it could double again. The enhanced poison ivy won’t just threaten humans; it could also kill trees at a faster pace. http://www.weather.com/home-garden/garden/poison-ivy-growing-out-control-thanks-climate-change-20130724

    Gosh, what can we do?

  • Amy Trotter

    Actually, the 2010 law made moose a game species and created an advisory council to study the issue. The council recommended that there be no moose hunt until the population growth was at least 3 percent a year, that was not part of the actual state statute. Given new or better scientific information, this recommendation could change.