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DNR Research: Where Have all the Moose Gone?

By: Travis Dill
tdill@wdio.com

In a few weeks researchers will strap new GPS technology onto moose in the Northland. Minnesota DNR officials announced the $1.2 million study in St. Paul on Friday.

Ericka Butler, a DNR Wildlife Veterinarian, said she doesn't know what's causing moose populations to decline. But she thinks an unknown health issue is the problem because these moose should be in their prime.

“These are the age of the moose that they should be the healthiest and the fattest and happiest and, you know, we are actually finding them dead at that time,” Butler said.

According to DNR aerial surveys, 4200 moose call northeastern Minnesota home, but researchers said that is less than half of what the population was in 2006.

The deaths are a mystery because it is hard to find moose remains before they decompose. That is where the new technology comes in.

Lou Cornicelli is a leader of the project. He said special collars that contain GPS units will help researchers find a dead moose quickly.

“It actually sends a text message to the researchers to tell us that 'Hey, I'm likely dead,' so I guess it's the opposite of a life-alert,” Cornicelli said.

Researchers will fly over northeastern Minnesota and tranquilize 100 moose later this month. The high-tech collars are fitted on each moose and give updates on its condition every six hours. The quick response means testing results could solve the mysterious deaths.

“So our whole goal is to get into these mortalities within 24 hours of death. That way we can collect things like brains, liver, lungs, pituitary glands, adrenal glands all sorts of organs that you can think of for us to determine why they are dying,” Butler said.

If that data doesn't help solve the mystery researchers said moose will likely disappear from the Northland.

Another 50 collars will be attached to calves in the spring. Those moose will be just a few days old so researchers can't tranquilize them. Instead the researchers will have to get out there and tackle them.

The DNR is spending $600,000 for the study, while the rest is coming from other sponsors like the Fond Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the state's Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.