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Moose population growing in Kenmare area

A North Dakota Game & Fish Department study that started two years ago on much speculation is now placed in fact that the moose population is growing in northwestern North Dakota.

3/01/16 (Tue)

Young bull . . . This young bull moose, located near Kenmare, is indirectly a part of a two-year study regarding the increase in female moose population in the northwest. There’s habitat, forage and no large predators. Couple that with low mortality rate and the population continues to grow in the area.

By Marvin Baker

A North Dakota Game & Fish Department study that started two years ago on much speculation is now placed in fact that the moose population is growing in northwestern North Dakota.

The study isn’t quite completed, however, Jason Smith, a big-game biologist for the North Dakota Game & Fish Department said he isn’t surprised by the data already collected an analyzed.

“They’re not migrating and it’s a growing population in your area,” Smith said from his office in Jamestown. “We had speculation based on biology, but now we have good biology and it’s not surprising. It’s nice to have that biological data to tie into the landscape.”

In March 2014, The Kenmare News reported on the beginning of the study that had Game & Fish personnel capturing and collaring 20 cow moose near Kenmare and Sherwood in the M10 hunting unit, west of U.S. Highway 83 to the Montana line and from the Canadian border to N.D. Highway 200.

That GPS monitoring has come to its conclusion, according to Smith and he and Jim Maskey, a biology professor at the University of Mary in Bismarck, are sifting through the data.

He said they continue wrapping up the active component of the study.

“There are no large predators, they have good productive rates and there’s good calf survival,” Smith said. “There’s habitat, forage and no limiting factor other than a hunter’s once-in-a-lifetime license.”

The annual survival rate is approaching 95 percent.

Two separate studies were actually done, the other in the Missouri River bottoms near Williston.

As it turns out, according to Smith, the two sets of moose vary slightly in that the river moose will migrate in the spring only about 3.5 miles, while the prairie moose around Kenmare and Sherwood will make longer migrations, up to 20 miles because of fragmented habitat.

When Smith took this project on two years ago, he didn’t anticipate an increasing population in this part of the state, because northwest North Dakota is not their natural habitat. Instead, we’ve always known moose to be active in the Pembina Gorge area, or the Lake of the Woods area of northern Minnesota.

“When we started hunting moose in North Dakota in the 1970s, we didn’t think they would expand,” Smith said. “Maybe it was because of overgrowth or maybe a disease.”

In fact, the M1-C area, that includes Pembina, Cavalier and part of Walsh and Grand Forks counties, is off limits to hunters because the moose population in that part of the state has developed a brain worm disease and many have died off.

This has also happened in the M4 area, which includes the Turtle Mountain area of Bottineau and Rolette counties.

But here in the northwest, the moose are healthy and expanding.

“The moose in your area are past the limit of the brain worm problem,” Smith said.

Although Smith didn’t indicate a finite population, he said the population has grown to a point where the Game & Fish Department will be offering more hunting licenses in the fall of 2016.

Smith said the department is in the process of developing its moose and elk proclamations and setting license numbers and those decisions will weigh heavily on the data Smith and Maskey are now just completing.

He added the M9 hunting unit, which is east of Minot and over toward Devils Lake, have seen a population increase as well, but not as significant as in the northwest.

According to Smith, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is doing a similar study in that state to find out why moose populations have declined by as much as 50 percent in the north woods of Roseau, Lake of the Woods and Beltrami counties.

They know that in their far northwestern counties, the brain worm parasite is the issue, but Minnesota officials, according to Smith, suggest that a changing climate is driving the population decline or migration of Minnesota moose elsewhere.

“When they started, they were seeing a significant decline in Minnesota,” Smith said. “To them, it appears to be climate related. Hopefully our research will compare or contrast with what they are doing.”

Saskatchewan farmland moose on the increase

There’s been a tremendous shift in the moose population from the boreal forest of northern Saskatchewan to farmland in central and southern Saskatchewan.

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment is currently doing a study, focusing on farmland between Regina and Saskatoon to find out why moose are migrating to that region where moose were rarely seen 30 years ago.

And much like North Dakota, Saskatchewan officials are trying to find out why moose numbers are doing so well on the prairie, while at the same time, moose in other areas are declining.

There could be any number of reasons why moose are migrating south, but the ministry hasn’t yet pinpointed the specific cause.

They believe lack of predators, abundant sloughs and cropland such as cereal grains and oilseeds offer moose a more favorable habitat, as well as providing excellent cover and a place to cool off during the summer months.

Since the ministry study began in April, there have been signs of moose virtually everywhere from Saskatoon to Regina, about 110 miles.

In addition, the Saskatchewan government reported 311 moose collisions with vehicles last year. In 2014, there were 257 collisions... Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!