Michigan’s Isle Royale moose study sidelined by pandemic

Chickenbone Lake Moose by David Clark

Chickenbone Lake Moose! by David Clark

The Associated Press’s John Flesher writes that one of the world’s longest-running wildlife field studies, the Isle Royale moose & wolf study,  has fallen prey to the coronavirus pandemic:

Since 1959, a research team has spent most of the winter observing the interplay between wolves and moose at Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior. But this year’s mission has been scrapped to protect the scientists and support personnel from possible exposure to the virus, Superintendent Denice Swanke said Friday.

Experts from several universities, the park service and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa had planned to assess how an effort to rebuild the wolf population is affecting the ecosystem.

The remote park is closed from Nov. 1 to April 15. The winter researchers use a single cabin, which wouldn’t allow for social distancing. Also factoring into the decision to cancel the expedition were the border closure between the United States and Canada, and a shortage of flight resources to bring supplies, Swanke said.

The park service and partners will try to document wolf population changes this summer using remote cameras and other techniques, Swanke said. But they won’t have the benefit of aerial observations that can be done only during winter, when the animals are easier to spot.

“There will just be a hole in the data that nothing can be done about,” said John Vucetich of Michigan Technological University, one of the biologists who have produced annual reports about the wolves and moose that roam the island park, as well as its other wildlife and vegetation.

More at the AP & you can read a lot more about Isle Royale & moose in Michigan on Michigan in Pictures!

David writes: As we were hiking from West Chickenbone Lake campground to McCargoe Cove, I saw a fallen tree’s roots across the narrow arm of the lake. Then the roots turned and looked at me. Moooooose!! See more in his Isle Royale 2017 gallery on Flickr & for sure check out his blog posts about the trip in his excellent blog Cliffs & Ruins!

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Stoll Trail Incident and How Isle Royale Became a Park

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Silhouette of a Moose, photo by Nina

Nina writes that she came upon this moose looking like a fake silhouette against a beautiful backdrop while hiking Albert Stoll Memorial Trail just before sunset at Isle Royale. Read Houghton, Flight to Isle Royale, and the Stoll Trail Incident for lots more including photos on Nina’s blog Black Coffee at Sunrise.

This excellent history of Isle Royale National Park from ParkVision explains how this remote Lake Superior Island became a park and Mr. Stoll’s role:

As early as the 1860’s some visited the island for touring or pleasure. But by the turn of the century a real tourism industry was beginning to exist on the island, fueled in part by the growth of midwestern cities. The first hotel on the island, the Johns Hotel, was built in 1892, and other early resorts were built at Tobin Harbor, Rock Harbor, and Washington Island. By the 1920’s there were a number of sizeable resorts located on Isle Royale and some of the smaller islands surrounding it. The moist, cool air on the island provided a popular escape from the midwestern summer heat and for hay fever sufferers.

The 1920’s also brought an effort to gain preservation of and national park status for the island. This effort was spearheaded by Albert Stoll Jr. of the Detroit News, and it was endorsed by Stephen Mather who visited the island in 1924. The threat of extensive logging of the island’s forests in 1922 enhanced concern about the importance of preservation of the island’s magnificent natural resources. Isle Royale gained a measure of fame as a result of a daring winter visit by plane by Ben East and his companions.

In 1930 the Michigan legislature created the Isle Royale National Park Commission. Establishment of the island and surrounding areas as a national park was authorized when Herbert Hoover signed legislation on March 31, 1931. However, initially no money was authorized for its establishment. The Depression and World War II intervened, and it was not until August of 1946 after all park lands had been acquired that the park was finally dedicated in a ceremony on Mott Island.

Read on for lots more!

View Nina’s photo background big and see more at Black Coffee at Sunrise where she will have further posts from her latest journey!

January 20, 1985: The Michigan Moose Lift

Upper Peninsula of Michigan moose

Upper Peninsula of Michigan moose, photo by Greg Kretovic

Every so often, something I have featured on Michigan in Pictures will vanish from the internet, leaving whatever I shared as the only remaining source. Such is the case with one of my favorite modern Michigan stories, The Michigan Moose Lift of January 20, 1985. Click that link to read about this historic operation that relocated 59 moose from the Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario and led to the re-establishment of moose in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – somewhere north of 400 at last estimate*.

Here’s a very cool video from the DNR that does a great job of telling the story. Enjoy!

Greg took this photo of a large bull moose exploring the shoreline of an inland lake in Baraga County in October of 2012. View his photo bigger, see more in his slideshow, and definitely follow him at Michigan Nature Photos on Facebook.

* From the Detroit Free Press article on the latest biennial survey of Michigan’s moose population:

The latest biennial survey by the Department of Natural Resources produced an estimate of 323 moose in their primary Michigan range, which includes Baraga, Iron and Marquette counties. If correct, that would be a decline there of about 28 percent from 2013, when the estimate was 451.

Chad Stewart, a deer, elk and moose management specialist with the DNR, said the population could have held steady since the 2013 count but that the findings, including a decrease in the number of calves spotted with adult females, suggest a decline is the likelier scenario.

It is “quite possible that we’re looking at a considerable drop in numbers,” Stewart said Monday.

A smaller moose herd wanders the eastern U.P. Biologists have long estimated their number at around 100.

Michigan Moose Numbers Declining

Moose Point Face-off

Moose Point Face-off, photo by Carl TerHaar

The Detroit Free Press reported that Michigan moose numbers are down:

The moose population in Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula appears to have dropped over the past two years and experts warn that a warming climate could be cause for concern for the species’ future in the state.

The latest biennial survey by the Department of Natural Resources produced an estimate of 323 moose in their primary Michigan range, which includes Baraga, Iron and Marquette counties. If correct, that would be a decline there of about 28 percent from 2013, when the estimate was 451.

…Even so, surveys since 1997 turned up regular population increases of about 10 percent. Beginning in 2009, the growth rate slowed to about 2 percent.

Now it appears to be dropping.

“It might not happen in our lifetime, or our children’s, but we have to face the possibility that there might not be a wild moose population in Michigan,” Chad Stewart (deer, elk and moose management specialist with the DNR) said.

Scientists are not certain what caused the apparent decline over the past two years, he said. Bitter cold and heavy snow the past two winters is one possible culprit. Also, wolves increasingly may be targeting moose because of falling deer numbers, although Stewart said there’s no hard evidence of that.

But in the long term, a warming climate may be the moose’s biggest enemy. Blood-sucking ticks thrive under such conditions. Thousands can attach themselves to a single moose and weaken the hulking beast.

More at the Freep.

View Carl’s photo big as a moose and see more in his massive Isle Royale National Park slideshow.

More Michigan moose information & photos on Michigan in Pictures

The Michigan Moose Lift

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Michigan Moose Reflections

Moose Reflections, photo by yooper1949

NOTE: I’ve edited this post because the State of Michigan removed it from the internet. Thank you archive.org for saving it via The Wayback Machine so I could share it in its entirely!

Remembering Michigan’s Historic Moose Lift from the Michigan DNR says:

On Jan. 20, 1985, separate convoys carrying men and equipment set out from Michigan on a mission to reach the 3,000-square-mile Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada.

Over the next two weeks, this team of wildlife biologists and veterinarians from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, working with a team of Canadian specialists from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, would locate, capture, transport and release a number of wild moose to form the nucleus of a new population in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

It was an unprecedented, historic operation. The wind chill at times approached 100 degrees below zero. Utilizing helicopters, tranquilizing dart guns and slings, some moose were air-lifted as far as 14 miles from the capture area to base camp.

At base camp, each animal was subjected to thorough medical testing and was fitted with a sophisticated radio collar, before being lifted into a shipping crate and placed onto a transport truck for the non-stop 600-mile overnight journey back to Michigan.

The remarkable effort was called “moose lift.” A total of 29 moose (10 bulls, 19 cows), ranging in size from 750 to 1,250 pounds, survived the arduous journey.

Crowds assembled each day at the release site north of Lake Michigamme in Marquette County. Despite temperatures well below zero, a welcoming committee of U.P. residents always showed up to greet the new “American” citizens.

As we mark the 20th anniversary of the first moose lift, the most common question that arises is, “How are the moose doing now?”.

“The department’s goal was to produce a self-sustaining population of free-ranging moose, and we have that,” said Dean Beyer, wildlife research biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Since the first moose lift in 1985, and a similar effort two years later when another 30 moose were released in the same area, the DNR has closely monitored the reintroduced moose population.

“At first, the size and growth of the herd was determined through a simple process–similar to balancing a checkbook,” Beyer said. “Because all moose were radio-collared, biologists could monitor each animal and tell when it died, and they could follow cows to record any births. The population could be tracked simply by adding the number of calves born and subtracting the number of animals that died.”

As the population grew, the new animals in the herd did not have radio collars.

“Over time, maintaining an adequate sample of radio-collared animals for the population would not be feasible,” Beyer said.

So in 1996 and 1997, the DNR conducted aerial surveys, which are the most common method of estimating moose numbers. Unfortunately, the population estimates from the aerial surveys were lower than estimates from the population model.

“At that point we knew we needed to conduct a more intensive study of the reintroduced population,” Beyer said. “And we also wanted to determine a more accurate picture of what’s reasonable growth for this population.”

With the help of the Michigan Involvement Committee of Safari Club International, which also provided the single largest financial contribution to the first moose lift, the DNR began a more intensive study of the reintroduced population in 1999, in cooperation with Michigan State University.

“Our research team is developing a technique to estimate the size of the population by estimating the probability of seeing moose from an airplane given the group size; behavior, whether the animal is standing or bedded; and the amount of canopy cover,” Beyer said.

When the moose were reintroduced into the western Upper Peninsula, biologists hoped the population would grow to 1,000 animals by the year 2000. Although that objective was not reached, results of the current study indicate the population is growing, on average, between five and ten percent each year. The research also has shown that poaching, moose/car accidents, brainworm and wolves are not major factors influencing the moose population at this time.

According to Beyer, the herd ranges over approximately 1,800 square miles in Marquette, Baraga and Iron counties. Moose also are found in several parts of the eastern U.P., most notably around the Tahquamenon River.

“Moose in this region have not been studied in detail,” he said.

Although records from the early explorers show that moose were common throughout Michigan, by the late 1800s moose numbers were very low. Moose soon disappeared from the Lower Peninsula and only a small number survived in the U.P., perhaps supplemented by animals coming in from Minnesota and Canada.

Thanks to the vision and hard work of many DNR biologists a generation ago, moose are once again establishing themselves as a premiere Michigan mammal.

Several U.P. communities, in fact, now vie over the self-proclaimed title, “Moose Capital of Michigan.” Mascots, motels, restaurants, candy and even ice cream are named after the mighty moose. Its image is common on billboards, television, artwork and printed materials. But most importantly, moose are alive and well, and rambling about in the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula once more.

Here’s a great video about the Moose Lift – highly recommended!

The last DNR moose survey pegs the UP’s moose population at about 500 with another 750 on Isle Royale.

Carl took this shot on Isle Royale in September. Check it out big as a moose and see much more (including some more moose shots) from one of Michigan’s coolest parks in his Isle Royale slideshow.

More moose on Michigan in Pictures!