Moose population declining in east end of district

The latest survey by the Ministry of Natural Resources indicates a decline in the moose population in the eastern end of Rainy River District by roughly 40 percent since the last one in 2000.
Between Jan. 3-8, the MNR conducted an aerial survey of Wildlife Management Unit 11A, which extends from Fort Frances to Quetico Provincial Park in the east and from Highway 11 south to the Minnesota border.
Based on 133 sightings, the MNR estimated there are now 387 moose in that area—down from 655 in 2000 when the last survey was conducted there.
This WMU originally was scheduled to be surveyed last winter but it was cancelled due to lack of snow and aircraft.
The survey, meanwhile, also indicated a sharp rise in the number of deer in WMU 11A from the last survey. A total of 406 deer were observed compared to 166 in 2000—representing a jump of about 145 percent.
The results were somewhat unexpected.
“We didn’t expect to see such a sharp decline [in moose numbers],” said Darryl McLeod, MNR area biologist for the Rainy Lake Area of Fort Frances District.
“The numbers were a bit of surprise,” he admitted.
McLeod offered a number of reasons for the drop. First, the sharp increase in deer numbers means moose are increasingly coming in contact with them and therefore are increasingly at risk to developing brain worm—a parasitic infection carried by deer that is transmitted to moose.
Deer do not seem to be vulnerable to the disease, but it can have disastrous effects on moose.
“This was the highest number of deer we’ve ever seen and the highest density, as well,” McLeod noted.
Another factor McLeod cited was moose ticks. Although not fatal, these skin parasites stress the animals greatly and can cause them to rub and scratch so much that large amounts of hair are lost as a result.
This, in turn, leaves the animals vulnerable to heat loss during severely cold weather.
In addition, McLeod noted there has been an expansion of road networks in the area, which fragments the landscape and makes it more accessible to predators and hunters.
Habitat changes due to increased forest harvesting also may be a factor.
The survey also counted four wolves, which is too small a number to make an accurate estimate of their actual population but indicates they are thriving in the area.
A number of wolf-killed deer also were spotted.
McLeod said the sharp increase in deer numbers probably is due to the spate of mild winters over recent years, which has allowed the population to thrive and increase.
He noted that in WMU 11B, which lies east of Quetico Park, the deer numbers are much lower due to more severe winter conditions because of its proximity to Lake Superior and the lake-effect snowfall that generates.
As a result of the survey, the MNR also is contemplating some changes for the 2004 hunting season.
“We are hoping to implement a two-tag system for deer next year,” said McLeod. “The regulation allowing that should be posted in the Environmental Bill of Rights shortly.”
In the meantime, preliminary recommendations for this year’s moose hunt have been made. A total of 115 moose tags will be issued for WMU 11A.
For bulls, these include 11 outfitter tags for non-residents, 60 gun tags for residents, and 15 bow tags for residents.
For cows, the numbers are four outfitters, 20 resident guns, and five resident bows.
Anyone with either a bull or cow tag is entitled to take a calf.
McLeod noted the population numbers given are estimates and cannot be verified.
Furthermore, since Quetico Park was excluded from the survey, it is possible moose were moving in and out of that protected area, thus skewing the numbers.
The MNR conducts these wildlife surveys every three years. In each year, it covers one third of the area.
The other units planned for moose surveys this winter include WMU 3 (Red Lake), WMU 5 (Dryden), WMU 6 (Kenora), WMU 12A (Atikokan), WMU 13 and 11B (Thunder Bay), and WMU 15A (Ignace).
(Fort Frances Times)