Woods visitors can help track moose

I find it hard to believe that it’s been more than 30 years since the first batch of moose were hauled from Canada and released in northwestern Marquette County.

I had just started working at the newspaper the fall before, so you know how long I’ve been here, and Joe Murphy was the Journal outdoor writer who covered the first release of 29 moose in early 1985.

I remember him telling us it was pretty neat watching the largest member of the deer family walk out of their transport crates and wander off into the Upper Peninsula woods.

That first release was a rather low-key affair, with the site situated a ways down a side road off of the Peshekee Grade. Mostly Michigan Department of Natural Resources personnel and a few media representatives attended the historic event.

It was a much different scene in 1987 when the DNR brought another 30 moose from Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario to help bolster the fledgling U.P. herd.

For this moose release, a large clearing right off the Peshekee Grade was used and the event was highly publicized. Crowds of several hundred people, including busloads of school kids, attended the releases that were spread out over several days in mid-winter.

I believe even then-Gov. James Blanchard made it up into the woods one of the days, as well as nearly every other politician and government official with ties to the area.

That fanfare carried over for several years and a close watch was kept on the region’s moose herd, which grew at a steady but moderate pace.

However, it wasn’t expanding at the hoped for rate, with a goal of “1,000 moose by the year 2000” being bantered about by wildlife managers.

That never occurred, as most residents of the U.P. know, but moose continue to have a presence here and thrill those fortunate to encounter the big animals.

Unfortunately, those encounters have been reduced in recent years with a significant drop found in the U.P. population during the January 2015 moose survey.

In the aerial survey, DNR wildlife biologists estimated there were about 323 moose in the main U.P. moose range in the western U.P. That number is down from the 451 estimated in the 2013 survey, or a nearly 30 percent drop in the two years between surveys.

In a press release issued last March announcing the population reduction, the DNR listed the following possible factors influencing the population:

  • “Back-to-back severe winter weather that negatively affected moose condition, survival and reproductive success.”
  • “Year-round climatic changes, especially warmer temperatures, that led to increased parasite loads on moose, weakening their overall condition.”
  • “A possible increase in wolf predation on moose calves due to the region’s lowered deer population.”

That last item listed certainly could be even worse this winter, seeing the deer population is extremely low in much of the moose range.

What direction the moose population is going in the U.P. won’t be known until next winter, though, seeing the moose survey is done every two years.

However, the DNR is requesting that residents and visitors to the U.P. help the department keep tabs on U.P. moose.

The department recently send out a request for those who do spot a moose to fill out a Moose Observation Report. The form can be found on the DNR’s website at www.michigan.gov/dnr.

The report includes basic questions on when, where and how many moose were spotted; whether you saw a bull, cow or calf; and in what habitat type the observation occurred.

Observations of moose sign can be submitted, as well, such as if you saw tracks, antler rubs, a rutting pit, feces or browsed vegetation.

“Observation reports give insight to where resident moose are being seen in the U.P., allowing us to assess the distribution prior to conducting the aerial survey,” Chad Stewart, deer, elk and moose management specialist for the DNR, said in the press release. “The survey is an important tool that provides an abundance estimate of moose in Michigan.

“Using the observation reports helps us tailor our survey to account for any distribution changes that may have occurred over the past couple of years so we can get the most accurate estimate of our moose population.”

So if you happen to see a moose or moose sign during excursions in the U.P. woods, log onto the DNR website and assist wildlife managers in tracking our moose herd.

Editor’s note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 270.