North American moose population continues to decline

Mike Krumboltz
Moose at Denali National Park (Thinkstock)

What's happening to the moose population of North America?

It's a question that nobody seems able to answer for certain, according to an article from The New York Times.

Across the U.S. and Canada, experts have reported that moose populations are dwindling at alarming rates.

Minnesota, for example, had "two geographically separate moose populations" as recently as 20 years ago. Since then, one of the groups has gone from 4,000 to fewer than 100.

The other population, according to the Times article, has decreased at a rate of 25 percent a year. The article cites similar population declines in Montana, New Hampshire, and Canada.

Many believe global warming and its many side effects are responsible.

Wrote the New York Times:

In New Hampshire, a longer fall with less snow has greatly increased the number of winter ticks, a devastating parasite. “You can get 100,000 ticks on a moose,” said Kristine Rines, a biologist with the state’s Fish and Game Department.

The warming climate also requires that moose use more energy to stay cool, which can lead to exhaustion and death, according to the National Wildlife Federation:

Heat affects moose directly, as summer heat stress leads to dropping weights, a fall in pregnancy rates, and increased vulnerability to predators and disease. When it gets too warm, moose typically seek shelter rather than foraging for nutritious foods needed to keep them healthy.

In some cases, the disappearing moose is a study of cause and effect.

Again, via The New York Times:

In the Cariboo Mountains of British Columbia, a recent study pinned the decline of moose on the widespread killing of forest by an epidemic of pine bark beetles, which seem to thrive in warmer weather. The loss of trees left the moose exposed to human and animal predators.

Wildlife officials in Minnesota suspended all moose-hunting licenses in February, according to USA Today. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is conducting a study to determine why the moose population is declining.