Moose Die-Off Worries Scientists, Climate Change A Factor

Moose Die-Off No Cause

Moose are dying off across North America in numbers that have scientists very worried. While climate change and pests are a factor, no one is sure why the population is declining so drastically.

Minnesota was home to two separate moose populations 20 years ago. However, one population dwindled to 100 since the 1990s and the second is declining by 25 percent each year.

Moose hunting permits in Montana fell from 769 in 1995 to 362 last year, reports The New York Times. However, the decline in hunting permits hasn’t stopped the moose die-off.

Nicolas DeCesare, a biologist with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks who counts moose in part of the state, remarked, “Something’s changed.” He added, “There’s fewer moose out there, and hunters are working harder to find them.”

Scientists are also working harder to find out what has changed. While there are likely several factors, climate change is a likely culprit. Winters are shorter across most of the moose’s range, while a longer fall and less snow in New Hampshire have helped the population of winter ticks.

Heat stress could also be causing the moose die-off, because the massive animals are built for cold weather. When temperatures reach 23 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer in winter, the moose have to use more energy to stay cool. As a result, more deaths from heat exhaustion can happen.

Unplanned hunting and wolves could also be factors, though scientists say more research needs to be done to pinpoint what is happening. Only then can they work toward rebuilding the moose populations. Saving the species is critical, because they are ecosystem engineers and they contribute to the economy.

Moose-watching is a $115-million-a-year business for New Hampshire and hunting permits also generate revenue for several states. To complicate matters even more, studying the death of a moose is very difficult. Unlike deer and other similar animals, moose are solitary. They also decompose rapidly, making necropsies after 24 hours almost useless.

However, Minnesota began a $1.2 million study in January aimed at using advanced monitoring technology to monitor moose and find them as soon as they die. A GPS collar and transmitter that monitors heart rate and temperature are attached to a moose, then it is released back into the wild. If the heart stops beating, the devices send a text message to the team, which races to the scene.

The new study could help solve the reasons for the moose die-off, at least in Minnesota.

[Image via ShutterStock]