A new study recently published in the Journal of Wildlife Management found that wolves may be a bigger factor in Minnesota’s moose decline than experts previously believed. The study, authored by two adjunct professors at the University of Minnesota, David Mech and John Fieberg, concluded that there was a correlation between the number of wolves in moose territory and the population of the moose themselves. Following up on a previous study that also took into account climate changes, Mech and Fieberg said that their data “suggested a stronger role of wolves than heretofore believed.”

Outside of Alaska, Minnesota holds the highest wolf population in the United States by a wide margin. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), there are about 2,420 wolves living in the state distributed across 470 packs. Despite hosting a popular hunting season, Minnesota’s wolf population continues to grow and biologists counted at least 200 wolves more than last year. In contrast, the state’s moose numbers have taken a nose dive that has biologists increasingly worried. In the northeastern part of the state alone, a recent aerial survey estimated that the moose population dropped from about 8,000 in 2005 to 4,300 in 2014. When the DNR launched a program to study the causes of mortality on collared moose, the agency found that 17 of the 31 moose that died during the study were killed by wolves.

“Wolf predation is probably a little higher than we expected,” DNR researcher Glenn DelGiudice told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “But we knew it would be a main source,”

Mech explained that wolves did not always have a large impact on moose numbers, but that changed in the past decade after a large boom in the population, which led to the predators moving in on moose territory.

“My data tends to indicate the problem was there were more wolves,” Mech said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the only answer. Is there some change affecting moose that allows wolves to take more of them, or is it merely that there’s more wolves?”

The researcher contends that wolves are only one facet of the decline of moose in Minnesota, and there are other factors leading to the loss of the iconic animal. Last winter the state actually experienced an increase in the moose population in some areas, although biologists said that the change is not indicative of a comeback.

Image from Patrick Bell on the Wikimedia Commons

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20 thoughts on “Study: Impact of Wolves on Minnesota Moose Greater Than Expected

  1. Not sure about anyone else, but I’d sure love to see this article compared with another (or maybe a series) that also examines the historic moose population going back to before wolf were eliminated in the first place as a point of comparison. Maybe examining the overall health of the ecosystem and populations of other animals as well. I read something a year or two ago about wolf causing a drop in the elk population in Yellowstone, but simultaneously causing a precipitous drop in the coyote population (through predation) and a corresponding rise in the antelope population due to fewer coyotes. As well as a recovery of endangered stream shore plants that elk had been overgrazing which was in turn reducing invasive plant species and improving the shoreline and underwater ecosystems as well…. Could something similar be happening here?

    1. Wolves don’t predate coyotes. They just kill them or run them out of their territory. So the number of coyote didn’t necessarily precipitously drop. They could have just ranged out to someplace where the wolves couldn’t just kill them.

  2. This comes as no surprise to those of us who spend a lot of time in the woods of Minnesota. They have nearly decimated the deer populations in many areas as well. We need more wolf control for sure; the DNR’s population estimates are very low when compared to the reality. Time to double the number of wolf tags.

  3. the problem is no one was counting back in the old days. nature does a pretty good job of balancing everything, but you put man in the equation and that really changes everything with his inventive mind. invasive plants are also mans doing. maybe we should hunt each other, just kidding. since we do not allow nature to balance things it leaves us do do it. we will not be as good, but it is needed. nothing should be allowed to be exterminated. there have to be controls on everything. that is a lot of work and guessing. are we up to it, i do not know but i guess we need to try. an over population of anything is bad. if we can not do it nature will take control. which in turn effects everything else. nature takes more time, but will reduce over population through starvation and disease. the problem comes at the loss of certain species in the time it takes, sometimes. i think we are see some of that in the diseases deer have been getting. trying to maximizing populations of anything is not good and eventually nature will take its course. of course nothing is perfect and the balance is like the middle of a sign curve going up and down and only hitting the balance short term. perfection is not obtainable. it does not mean we should not try. sounds like the wolf population is great because of available food which in long term they will fix and then their population will decline or they will start eating us. maybe that would be good also because we seem to have done a great job of over population of our own species. of course i believe nature will take care of the human over population also, given enough time. tough problems tough answers. i am not smart enough to give you an answer. just rambling on.

  4. We need to factor out the PETA-terroists and all emotionally driven money and hand wringing…I love wolves, but man is a permanent equation now. The wolves will decimate other species w/o managed control, then move on to decimate another area.

    1. not the first time i have contemplated the problem, and we have definitely screwed up the balance but we are part of nature. i do not believe we can just let the wolfs go until the have really screwed up the environment that could result in the extinction of a species. i believe they need to be controlled just as the bears. all i was trying to say is eliminating them is not right either. i do believe that the reason there is so many diseases in the deer population is because the have been managed to expand that population too much. nature has a way of fixing things that get out of control. just as the reduction in the coyote population lead to an over abundance in jack rabbits, which lead to diseases in rabbits to bring down the population. control yes not eliminate it just leads to other problems. like i said i do not have the answers just rambling. we as humans can kill way more then nature can. the over abundance will eventually be fixed by nature. even our over population will be fixed. it is just a matter of time and how much damage we can do trying to manage something so complex. i love hunting and shooting. i do not want to take away any of it or have someone talk it away from me, i would rather have them kill me trying do accomplish that task. hunting wolfs or bear or coyotes is certainly in the cards and should be done. we need to protect our over population of the planet. i believe we were meant to hunt we are just to smart. we can go to far and have many times. it is a hard balancing act and i do not have the answer. i have no problem killing a dog and i love my dogs, but if it comes between me and mine and a dog i know who i will choose. certainly i do not love wolfs as much as my dogs, i am just saying it is a hard decision on how many need to be removed, and the government in my opinion is very inefficient and we need to decentralize. government employees seem to not want to work and be bother at least a good majority of them. there are some good ones don’t get me wrong. peta what is that people eating tasty animals, extremism is never good for anything. that is why we have jails. now we are on that. i will say we need to legalize all drugs, what a person does is his own business. do you really want the government telling you what to do? prohibition has never worked we know that what the hell are we doing making the cartel rich. the government has taken away our choices to protect us? thank you, i would rather make my own choices good or bad. as far as politics all the parties have their hands in the deep pockets who make all the decisions. there is a lot to fix and i do not know if it can be done. i do know it will not be in my life time. just rambling on.

      1. Well said Art. Here in Michigan, the nice folks I mentioned in my initial post conned enough voters to squash a proposed new dove hunt based on emotion, not facts. Aside from the fact that I cannot enjoy a dove hunt and enjoy wild smoked dove bombs on the grill now, be very aware that almost ANY effort to ban hunting of a species is just a means to an end. PETA and groups like the Humane Society of the US want to literally sterile deer so we won;t have to manage them through “cruel” hunting. They want to ban ALL hunting, and in recent years I have heard rumblings about the cruelty of fishing…(SMH) Good day and good hunting! Steve

      2. dove hunting great fun and great meat just not much. trying to sterilize animals to control population is insane period

  5. A year or two ago we learned of this drastic decline. I knew it was wolves. I said so then. I was berated by several smartass “experts” who instantly denied the impact the wolves are making. Some dilly bar came out and said it was likely some virus or worm (can’t quite remember-the impact of the foolishness to stick up for vermin made me not focus on that). Then someone else pointed out the fact that the overpopulation of wolves facilitates the spread of this virus or whatever it was. The common denominator is wolves. The so called reintroduction of wolves suggests they were gone to begin with. They weren’t. They were down to very low, very controllable numbers. Some claim this number now, is around 2400 or so wolves. They’ve been on this “7” year program for around 25 years. The number back then was about half of what they claim now. They had some arbitrary number around 2500 that suggested a healthy population. For some reason during the last 15-20 years the number they submit as accurate keeps hovering around or just under the target number. So they were awarded funding to keep it going. That suggests failure to me. We have organizations that report numbers as high as 7000 wolves statewide. I would believe that when you see moose in the southern prairie areas. Not just in Minnesota either, there are reports all over the country of moose being found in these ‘odd’ habitats. Also we have wolves in farm country in westcentral prairie areas. I was almost attacked by a wolf 10 years ago that was chasing a doe. He got confused and came toward me as I was on the ground right where the doe ran through. He came toward me until a warning shot turned him away at 20 yards. We also have wolves in suburban Minneapolis. My neighbors daughter lost her English flop eared rabbit to a wolf. It chewed through chicken wire and pushed a hole through that was 18 inches across and 26 inches off the ground. A coyote couldn’t and wouldn’t make a hole that large or that high. We had tracks in the mud and snow. We had hair samples from the chicken wire. Long, 4″+, with the black tips…. The DNR agent I talked to on the phone became perturbed of my claim, and no one would come out to check. Ridiculous. This is not a surprise to many of us. Bernie Barringer is right.

    1. should not even need tags, when the population gets small stop hunting them. if the moose population is small enough, then the hunt should be stop. we will never be as good as nature at this but unfortunately we have no choice. man is just to smart for his own good. i guess there needs to be more dumb asses like me around.

      1. That’s part of the problem. The hunt was stopped, the past two seasons I believe. The moose is still in decline. When the hunter was the control unit the population flourished. The animals that were taken (killed) were not tortured to death. Nor did they have their face ripped off, and their genitals torn off, left to bleed into submission. This process can take days in some cases, if the animal can still run. But then go the ankles, and ripping out of the organs all while the animal is hanging on for dear life. The wolves and coyotes almost bury themselves in the abdomen in ruthless bloodlust. Then the so called sharing is just basic indifference after they’ve had their fill. Then anything leftover is abandoned for the vermin and carrion eaters. Let me ask you this: have you ever seen a wolf or coyote pass on killing something? Or, have you ever seen a wolf or coyote crawl out on thin ice, risking their own life and limb to preserve wildlife, to save a doe that got stuck? Or have you seen any predator besides man relent a significant percentage of their where with all for the enhancement of the environment? The true stewards of this environment are the humans that predate.

      2. i am all for hunting, just not to extinction. yes wolfs and coyotes will just keep killing even past what they need to survive. the killing is not pretty and depending on what it is doing the killing in the animal kingdom, some start at the rectum, some the neck or nose. it is instinct. we kill for more then we can eat also. i love hunting hate the taste of deer now. we are more human. sterilizing is insane. allow hunting instead. yes we are force to keep the numbers in check. i love just to go shooting everything shotguns, rifles, pistols, and revolvers. i love the thrill of a successful hunt. i have gutted a deer with my bow and was never able to retrieve it. nothing is perfect. including us. we have taken charge of the planet so to speak, and we have not done a great job. we as americans feel we need to police the world, it is no wonder most of it hates us. controlling the animals we need to do whether it is too many ducks, or anything. f… the policing the world. we lose our best men for nothing except to make the top 1% richer that makes me sick. suffering is done on many levels including mine. when i am informed of something i have that will not allow me to take care of myself, i will take care of myself, for me it is that simple. i will not let them take my guns or the right to hunt away, i would rather have them kill me, that is just me. this country has gone to shit and needs a lot of fixing. i hope you can do a better job then my generation the baby boomers. i am ashamed to say i am one. drugs need to be legalized all of them. prohibition never works. freedom needs to be restored. it is no ones business what i do in my own home. everyone wants the government to take care of them, now more then 1/2 are being taken care of. it can not last for ever that way, mark my words. i am just not intelligent to have all the answers, i am not sure anyone is. i guess we will have to do the best job we can and see where it leads us.

      3. I get you Art. I respect your point. I agree with a lot of what you say. Some seems a bit fatalistic though. As far as the wolves and coyotes are concerned….. I don’t think anyone in this conversation suggests taking their population to extinction. As Ole pointed out in 1971 there were an estimated 550 wolves in Minnesota. That number sounds fine. They were also only found in the wilderness portion (north) of the state. They still revolved around the moose, as is the natural relationship anywhere in the world. The point being the number was relational to the times. We have more wolves than ever existed before and 1/5 of the habitat to support them. As much as I’ve grown to hate the buzzword this is ‘unsustainable’. My belief is that a preponderance of data is falsely being comprised as a tactic to stop hunting and fishing. Despite the fact that my state has written that “right” into the state constitution. The Feds are the wolves and hunters are the moose. The hunter needs to be the control unit. Not private opinion (animal control groups) or socio-collapsed govts. We see where this is leading us, don’t we?

    1. Actually, according to the DNR, in 1973 there were 550 wolves in the state. That was after an all out war on them. That was the best we could do. It should be no surprise that 1971 is when moose season was re-established. I don’t think we needed “experts” to figure this out.

    2. I DO NOT WANT TO HAVE AN OVER POPULATION OF WOLFS. as i have said decentralize. next to the border wolfs are coming from canada. sounds like there is an over population there and should be reduced. our feds trying to reintroduce the wolfs only counts the # as a whole. i am just saying i do not think extinction is a good answer. the populations around yellow stone have also gotten out of control. they do need to be controlled and a lot of people enjoy hunting wolfs. when they start to affect the surrounding areas greatly they need to be reduced. when the deer, ducks or any population gets to big it effects a lot of other species and should be reduced. the reduction should be accomplished by hunting, not some of these other ways they have tried. some are just idiotic, and costs us dearly. too many of anything will reduce food sources for other animals. it is a tough call but since we are part of the environment we are part of the answer. the problem is we can not open up a hunting season on people to reduce our over population. i believe from what i am hearing the wolfs there need to be reduced. there are a lot of places where bears and lions need to be reduced. we have limited their habitat that limits their numbers. california would rather have mountain lions hunt people then reduce their numbers. the great thing about these over populations is it should open up hunting opportunities for hunters as well as put money into the coffers to help improve the habitat for the other animals. extinction no control yes. we agree more then we disagree. we have to many deer i believe because of all these diseases they are getting. let the hunters reduce the population. just not to the degree it affects animals that survive off of them. balance not extinction. i do not believe we can control this very well, but i see no choice. like i said i am not smart enough to do the controlling and i am not sure anyone is. we just have no choice.

  6. Seeing only 38 wolves taken during the early season hunt in the Northeast zone in MN….and another 83 in the Northwest zone…that’s simply not a high enough number for a predator that flourishes in the worst winters. We need to trap out 500 or more to have any positive impact on the next year’s moose calves’ survival rate. Wolves will survive another “attempted extermination”, because they can’t adapt and relocate easily…and they’re too dang smart. Moose can’t continue to be unprotected, and are left to pay the price for our indecisiveness on the wolf hunt in Minnesota.

  7. dnr says there are 2420 wolves in 470 packs in minnesota but if your a trapper like me you’ll notice that besides all the packs of wolves there are also loners. almost ever road i drive down trapping there’s one to three single wolves that go back and forth every one to three days.I think that someone needs to learn how to count. But I would guess that no one could ever get an accurate count any way. I would say that there are a lot more wolves out there than what they are saying, but they won’t say just so they can keep gov. grant money for studies.If they have’nt figured it out in forty years of trying, I think it’s time to give it up. It doesn’t take a genius to know that they don’t know any thing more than they did ten years ago………………give it up and quit wasting tax payer dollars on stupidity..

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