Minnesota’s moose population trend shows no significant change

(Released February 14, 2014)

Aerial moose survey results for 2014 show no significant change in Minnesota’s moose population even though more animals were seen than last year. 

Results of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ annual aerial moose survey place the 2014 statewide moose population estimate at 4,350. The 2013 estimate was 2,760 but due to variability in the estimates, this year’s estimate does not represent a statistically significant change.

“The higher estimate this winter likely is related to ideal survey conditions rather than any actual increase in the population,” said Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager for the DNR. “This year’s heavy snows across northeastern Minnesota made it comparatively easy to spot dark-bodied moose against an unbroken background of white.”

Cornicelli said this year’s estimate is very close to the 2012 estimate of 4,230, which suggests that last year’s estimate may have under-counted the population.

“All wildlife population surveys have inherent degrees of uncertainty,” he said. “Long-term trend and population estimates are more informative and significant than annual estimates.”

That long-term trend shows Minnesota’s moose population is continuing a significant downward trend. Even with this year’s higher population estimate, the number of moose is about half of 2006’s estimate of 8,840.

DNR’s ongoing moose mortality research also is providing important information on population status.

“Mortality rates of 21 percent among adult moose and 74 percent for calves in the first year of the studies illustrate the complexity of Minnesota’s moose population problem,” Cornicelli said. “Even though we counted more moose on this year’s survey than last year, the radio-collar data and overall population trend over time indicate a continuing population decline.”

The adult and calf moose mortality studies are in their second year. Researchers just completed collaring an additional 36 adult moose to replace those that died in 2013. Another 50 newborn calves will be collared this spring. Researchers hope information and insights gathered during the study will help identify potential management and habitat options that may stop or slow the long-term population decline.

No final decision about moose hunting will be made until after the DNR consults with the affected Chippewa bands in the 1854 Treaty ceded territory of northeastern Minnesota. The DNR suspended the season in 2013 because of last year’s low population estimate.

The DNR has conducted aerial moose population surveys in northeastern Minnesota since 1960. The survey involves flying a helicopter across 52 randomly selected areas of northeastern Minnesota to count moose. The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the 1854 Treaty Authority contribute funding and provide personnel for the annual survey.

A copy of the 2014 aerial survey is available online at www.mndnr.gov/moose, a Web page that also provides information on the DNR’s ongoing moose mortality research project.