December 01, 2017

Moose expert Vince Crichton from Winnipeg, Manitoba says that having a limited moose hunt in the Upper Peninsula for bulls only would not hurt the population and such a hunt could generate valuable research dollars, so more can be learned about the region’s moose herd. Crichton also says that the U.P.’s increasing black bear population may be responsible for limiting growth of the U.P. moose herd through predation on calves.

Crichton was the latest speaker in the Wildlife Through Forestry series sponsored by the DNR in an effort to encourage private landowners to seek professional help to manage their property for wildlife and other values. He gave a presentation on moose at the River Rocks Lanes and Banquet Center in Ishpeming in mid-October.

“Absolutely, you could have a draw for 10 permits or 20 for bulls,” Crichton responded to a question about having a limited hunt for bulls only in the U.P. “Or you could put 10 or 20 permits up for auction like they do for wild sheep and use the dollars generated for specific moose projects. The U.P. has essentially a closed system for moose and you can get by with a limited hunt.

Moose expert Vince Crichton.

“Now, the issue you will face if you give out or have a draw of some sort for 10-20 permits, how will you handle the request from Native Americans in the U.P.? How many will they get and how do you distribute them amongst the various native communities? This is an issue that needs to be thoroughly thought out.”

In terms of the number of bulls that the DNR currently estimates are part of the west U.P. moose herd, far more are present than are needed for breeding purposes. The aerial survey conducted last winter estimated that there were 110 bulls for every 100 cows. In most areas where moose hunts are held, Crichton said biologists try to manage for 60 to 70 bulls per 100 cows.

At the present time, the moose herd in the western U.P. is only surveyed from the air during the winter every other year. And the aerial survey planned last winter was not completed due to a warm spell during January that melted much of the snow that helps make moose visible from the air. No other research is underway to determine what factors may be responsible for the population’s reduced growth rate.

A Moose Advisory Council was established during 2011 to study the feasibility of having a moose hunt in the U.P. That council recommended that a hunt should only be held as long as the moose herd increased by at least 3 percent per year. The growth rate of a moose population isn’t as critical, however, when only bulls are targeted during a hunt and the herd includes such a high number of bulls. Such a hunt would not impact cows, which are the most important segment of the herd in terms of reproductive potential.

During Crichton’s presentation, he said he would not recommend a hunt of a moose herd that includes less than 1,000 animals. “When I made that statement, I was referring to an open season for any moose, including cows,” he clarified. “For populations in the 1,000 range, I would not be having a cow season. It is possible to have a carefully controlled hunt with less than 1,000 moose when only bulls are hunted.”

Prior to 2013, the U.P. moose population had been increasing on an annual basis. The aerial survey conducted during 2015 then showed the herd may have declined. During 2012, the number of bear licenses issued in the U.P. declined by more than 30 percent to allow bears to increase and the number of bear licenses issued since then declined even further. Is it possible that an increasing bear population could have been partly responsible for fewer moose?

“Yes, bear predation likely is having an impact on the moose population in the U.P.,” Crichton answered.

He used a study from Saskatchewan to illustrate what impact black bears can have on moose calf survival. One year, 12 male black bears were removed from a study area during May and June when most moose calves are born. Eleven of the 12 males were large adults.

Moose calf survival was determined through aerial survey flights the following December on the study area and another location where no bears were removed. There were 80 calves/100 cows in the study area versus 40 in the control area. The following year during May and June, 26 black bears were removed from another area. By December, the number of calves was 87/100 cows where bears had been removed and 39/100 cows where bears had not been removed.

“This Saskatchewan study clearly shows that by removing only a small number of large males there was a significant positive impact on calf survival,” Crichton wrote.

“Here’s an idea – auction off say 20 bull licenses and the dollars go to a study on the impact of black bear on moose calf survival. Collar some adult cows, say 20, that are known to be pregnant and then watch in spring to see what happens to calves that are born!”

Moose populations are declining in parts of North America such as Minnesota and some people have suggested climate change might be responsible for those declines.

“I don’t believe climate change is impacting moose,” Crichton told the audience in Ishpeming. “If climate change is an issue, moose wouldn’t be increasing in Saskatchewan. The population is booming in Saskatchewan, even on the prairies.

“In Minnesota, Dave Mech, who is a wolf man working in Minnesota, wrote a paper saying that wolves are responsible for the decline of moose there. Brainworm and liver flukes that moose get from deer may be a more important cause for the decline of moose in the northwest part of the state. Moose populations are down in parts of southern Manitoba due to brainworm and liver flukes and overhunting.”

Winter or moose ticks can have a major impact on moose populations like predation and parasites when there’s an outbreak, according to the expert.

“During 2002 we lost 40 percent of our moose in Manitoba due to a late spring and an outbreak of ticks,” Vince said. “The average number of ticks counted on bulls that year was 26,000, 39,000 on cows and 56,000 on calves. One bull had 97,000 ticks on him. When you get above 45,000 to 50,000 ticks on moose, it’s bad. An average of 15,000 ticks per moose is common during a light year.”

Some organizations have petitioned the US Fish & Wildlife Service to list the northwestern subspecies of moose as endangered due to recent declines. When asked if he thought that those moose should be listed as endangered, Crichton said that he didn’t think they should be.

Crichton also shared with the audience other facts of interest about moose such as both bulls and cows have light colored snouts during the summer, but the snouts of adult bulls darken during the rut from increased testosterone levels. Both bulls and cows have rope-like bells growing from their chins, but cows have smaller bells. Vince said the ropes or bells fall off during the winter.

When it comes to hooves, those of bulls tend to be rounded and cows have pointed hooves.

The peak of the moose breeding season is during late September, according to the Canadian moose expert. The earliest he knows of a cow moose being bred is August 21 and the latest is November 21. He said most cows breed when they are 2 ½-years-old and have a single calf when 3- years-old. Cows that are at least 6-years-old are more likely to have twin calves. Crichton said cows can have as many as four calves.

The presence of mature bulls is also critical for successful breeding, according to Crichton. He said the reason for this is that sperm from mature bulls are most often properly formed and better able to impregnate cows. The sperm of young bulls are not properly formed, resulting in fewer pregnancies.

Crichton worked for the Manitoba Wildlife and Ecosystem Protection Branch for 40 years, retiring in 2012. Many of those years he was involved with moose research and management. The moose biologist has been published in various scientific journals, popular magazines and he wrote two chapters in “The Ecology and Management of the North American Moose.” He is past editor, and currently associate editor, of “ALCES: A Journal Devoted to the Biology and Management of Moose.” He is also a member of editorial panels for various other journals and is co-editor of “The Moose Call” newsletter.

Vince is past president of the Manitoba Big Game Trophy Association and is currently Canadian vice president of the North American Moose Foundation. He is a hunter, conservationist, university lecturer, guest speaker and amateur photographer. He was awarded the “Distinguished Moose Biologist Award” by his peers. In September 2016, he was co-chairman of the 50th North American Moose Conference/8th International Moose Symposium in Brandon, Manitoba. There, he was presented with a special award for his long-time contributions to North American moose conferences and international symposia.

Anyone interested in getting professional advice about managing their property for any species of wildlife, including moose, can contact UP private land forester Gary Willis at the Baraga office (906-353-6651), ext. 112.