‘The Population Could Withstand A Harvest Of Six To Ten Bulls Right Now’…

Michigan could have its first moose hunt in modern times by 2015, at the latest, if there is enough public support. There are actually enough moose (estimated at around 500) to have a limited hunt now, but by 2015 there should be more than 1,000 of the animals on the U.P. mainland.

Moose were reintroduced to the Upper Peninsula mainland during 1985 and 1987, with around 30 of the large mammals trucked to the region from Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park each of those years. The transplant was paid for by hunters, with the intent of having annual hunts to manage the herd once there were enough moose to support a harvest. In fact, moose are already designated as a game animal, so no new legislation would be necessary to clear the way for a hunting season.

There are now enough moose in the U.P., excluding those on Isle Royale, to have a limited hunt for bulls. DNR moose researcher Dean Beyer said an estimate of the number of moose in the western U.P. during 2007 was 360, based on a survey done during the winter with a fixed wing airplane. He said an estimate of 100 moose for the eastern U.P. was arrived at based on year round sightings received by DNR wildlife personnel rather than a scientific survey, so that would be a minimum number for that portion of the region.

“The population could withstand a harvest of six to 10 bulls right now,” DNR regional wildlife biologist Bob Doepker said when asked about the possibility of a hunt.

Like deer, adult males are polygamous, meaning they mate with more than one female. So bulls are the most expendable segment of the population. It isn’t necessary to have equal numbers of bulls and cows to get adequate reproduction because adult bulls roam over many square miles during the September rut in search of females. Females that are ready to breed, call loudly to attract mates, too.

Beyer said the sex ratio of the mainland moose is about 50/50 males and females, so there are currently more bulls in the population than necessary for reproduction. He added that the population is increasing at a rate of about 10 percent per year. At that rate of increase, the mainland population will exceed 1,000 by the year 2015.

The survival rate of moose calves in the U.P. is excellent, according to Beyer. He said 65 percent of the calves born in the region survive, based on his research. He added that calf production has been averaging .7 calf per cow per year, but during some years like 1999 and 2005, one or more calf per cow was produced.

It’s important to keep in mind that current DNR estimate of moose numbers are minimum figures. There could actually be 700 to 800 moose in the region now. Moose inhabit thick habitat and are not social animals, so they are widely dispersed, making it difficult to accurately census them.

In Vermont, for example, where the state has had an annual moose hunt since 1993, wildlife biologist Cedric Alexander said they waited too long to begin their moose hunt because they were underestimating the animals.

“We were using a helicopter to survey our moose population and we were missing a lot of them,” he said. “We had a lot more moose out there than we thought. We came up with an estimate of 1.9 moose per square mile in the helicopter survey. Then we initiated a deer hunter survey based on the number of moose sightings per hour and came up with a figure of three moose per square mile.”

Vermont issued 30 moose permit for its first hunt in 1993. They now issue 1,255 moose licenses per year. Vermont has so many moose today that they are negatively impacting forest regeneration.

When moose were first reintroduced to Michigan in the 1980s, there was speculation that their population could reach 1,000 by the year 2000, at which time a hunt could be held. That prediction was obviously too optimistic. A number of changes, which would have been difficult to anticipate at the time, have occurred since 1985 that have had an impact on moose numbers.

One of those changes was a dramatic increase in deer numbers in the northern U.P., which peaked in 1995. Whitetails commonly have a parasite called brainworm that don’t normally harm their host, but when moose become infected with the same parasite, they can prove to be fatal. Loss of moose to brainworm due to high deer numbers up until 1995 was greater than expected, slowing the rate of increase.

Snails are the intermediate host for brainworm parasites. Snails become infected from deer droppings. Since snails are frequently on wetland vegetation moose eat, they become infected when they ingest snails with their food.

Potential predators of moose calves have also increased dramatically since 1985. Wolf and black bear numbers are much higher today than they were then. Both predators are also capable of preying on adult moose, but calves are most vulnerable. The loss of moose to predators has further slowed the increase of the U.P.’s moose herd.

Wolves gradually spread from Minnesota to Wisconsin and then to upper Michigan. They are now found in every U.P. county and there are more than 500 in the region.

The bear population got a big boost in 1990 when a permit system was established to limit hunter numbers. The U.P. was divided into bear management units and annual permit quotas are developed for each one. The U.P.’s bear population has increased slowly, but steadily, under the management system started in 1990. There are now between 16,000 and 18,000 black bears in the U.P.

Although moose have not increased as fast as expected, they have also increased steadily. Calf production and survival has not been as high in recent years as the DNR would like to see. Predation may be one reason why.

The presence of winter ticks and their impact on U.P. moose may be another reason why they have not increased at a faster rate, according to Doepker. Collisions with vehicles also claim a number of moose each year. One person lost their life when they struck a moose with their vehicle and others have been injured. A limited hunting season in the future will certainly help reduce the potential for moose/car crashes.

Even though moose have not increased as fast as the DNR originally thought they would, they are increasing, and a limited harvest of bulls regulated under a permit system much like the state’s elk and bear hunts are conducted, would have little impact on the herd. Such a hunt would, however, generate a lot of public interest and additional funding for the DNR. Like other hunts in which licenses are limited, hunters would have to send a nonrefundable application fee to apply for a moose permit.

Those fees certainly would not solve the state agency’s future financial needs, but a new hunting license of this type would certainly help. When and if a U.P. moose hunt is held, a system for selecting permittees should be designed to insure some of the tags go to U.P. residents. U.P. residents have been supportive of the reintroduction and protection of the new game animal. It’s only right that some residents from the region should be part of the first hunt.

Doepker said he isn’t sure if there is enough public support for a moose hunt in the U.P. He recommends conducting a survey to assess the public attitude toward such a hunt before one is planned. There’s nothing wrong with that. In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt if hunters across the state contacted their local DNR wildlife biologist to let them know what they think about a Michigan moose hunt. No one has bothered asking them until now!