Study: Starvation Caused Moose Decline
Sep 15, 2004
CASPER, Wyo. - Malnutrition and starvation have drastically reduced moose numbers in northwest Wyoming, according to the author of a new study that debunks the belief among some that wolves are a leading cause of the decline.
"I know people don't want to believe this ... but moose are not in the diets of wolves," Joel Berger, a senior scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, told Wyoming Game and Fish commissioners at a recent meeting.
The 10-year study is one part of the larger debate in recent years about the effects of wolf predation on the state's big game species, particularly on elk in western Wyoming herds.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologists say wolves continue to expand their range in western Wyoming. Wolves have now killed elk on 14 of the 22 state-operated feedgrounds and have displaced elk at several feedgrounds in the Gros Ventre and North Piney area. But there was little data about wolf impacts on moose populations.
Some outfitters and others have complained that moose numbers have been harmed by the transplanting of Canadian wolves into Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s.
But Berger said his study of three moose herds in the Jackson area shows the decline in moose populations is more of a problem with nutrition and habitat than with predators.
"There's a lot of other things going on besides predators ... habitat, changing weather, lags in vegetation response, poor willow growth, disease ... and we're losing (moose) habitat not only in quantity, but in quality too," he said.
"Wolf predation overall has not been intense in the unit ... and there's been little grizzly bear predation recently as well," Berger said.
The Jackson moose unit population averaged 2,400 animals from 1998 to 2002, according to Game and Fish data. The population rose slightly in 2003 and was estimated at 2,736 animals.
Berger's study showed about 14 percent to 18 percent of mortality in adult Jackson moose was due to grizzly bears and less than 2 percent due to wolves. Car collisions accounted for about 8 percent of total adult mortality, Berger noted.
"About 60 percent of adult female mortality is due to malnutrition... Less than 5 percent of adult females are lost due to predation," he said.
Berger said the study revealed that moose birth rates, and rates of twin births, are also down significantly.
The Game and Fish Department averaged about 500 moose hunting licenses issued each year for the moose in the Jackson area during the 1970s and 1980s. Now, the agency sells about 145 permits per year.
"To get back to the days of 500 permits ... it may not happen, but it will depend mostly on vegetative quality," Berger said.
Commissioner Bill Williams said it was important to get the word out about the study to the state's sportsmen and hunters.
"I was surprised... I think a lot of people have the misperception that wolves were responsible," he said.
In order to help the Jackson unit's population, the state has been cutting back hunting permits in the area, wildlife biologists said.
For the first time since 1971, no anterless moose tags will be issued for the Jackson herd during the 2004 hunting season. And for the seventh year, hunters may not take a cow moose accompanied by a calf.
Information from: Star-Tribune, http://www.casperstartribune.net
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