Securing Utah’s Moose Population

Moose with radio collar Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson, Photographer
Moose with radio collar
Alces alces
Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson, Photographer
Historically, the settlers and hunters of Utah didn’t find moose when they were exploring the state.
It wasn’t’ until 1906-07 when the first recorded moose sighting occurred in Utah.

Ironically, at this same time the population of Shiras moose also known as Wyoming moose (the subspecies found in Utah today) was dangerously close to extinction due to overhunting.

Settlers in nearby states had preferred hunting moose because the large animal was easy to catch, and was an efficient way to obtain a few hundred pounds of sweet venison.

To prevent their extinction, western states discontinued moose hunting for a time. Until 1950, hunters agreed to hunt other deer species to provide time for the moose population to replenish.
Searching for moose became a challenging spectators sport.

Moose are active during the day and loners most of the year (except mothers with their young) and since they prefer habitat where they can easily hide – finding one was a rare occasion.

By 1957, Utah’s moose had a resident herd in the Uinta mountains and the population continued to grow.
Dan MacNulty, associate professor in the Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resource at USU has been studying the state’s moose. He explains, “Utah’s moose population reached an estimated high of over 3,500 in 2005. The population subsequently declined to a current estimate of 2,600 moose. The reasons for this drop were unclear.”

To determine the factors causing the fluctuation in the moose population, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) joined with MacNulty’s research lab to investigate the drivers of moose population growth. MacNulty says, “The first priority of the research was to determine the current status of the moose population. Is it increasing, decreasing or stable?”

Moose Cow & Calf with radio collars Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson, Photographer
Moose Cow & Calf with radio collars
Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson, Photographer
To do this, the researchers collared 120 female adult moose in two established herds – 60 in the Wasatch Mountains and another 60 in the North Slope of the Uinta Range.

Female moose are the best indicators of the health of the herd. The females provide the data to determine the health of both the adults and calves. By tracking them, the research team can see the number of females that calve, the number of calves who survive their first winter to join the population, and the survival rate of the adults during the four-year project.

When the first year of data was gathered they found in both herds, 80-90 percent of the collared females survived. Kent Hersey, Big Game Project Leader for DWR adds, “Compared to other moose herds, Utah moose tend to have average or below average survival rates.”

Joel S. Ruprecht, USU graduate student in MacNulty’s lab discovered one reason this may be occurring. He found the maternal fat stores of the female directly impact the reproductive and survival success in Shiras moose.
When midwinter fat stores of the expecting moose were measured Ruprecht found it predicted whether the female moose would successfully give birth to her young and also whether her young would live long enough to become a healthy long-term member of the herd.

If a solution for the population drop could be to increase nutrition levels of the mothers, then DWR may be able to improve habitat conditions for adult moose and increase their health, which would in turn increase calving rates.
DWR plans to use these research findings to help stabilize Utah’s moose population.
The results may have come at an ideal time since the state’s 7-year Statewide Moose Management Plan expires later this year.

This is Shauna Leavitt for Wild About Utah

Credits:
Photos: All photos copyright and courtesy of Sam Robinson.
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Additional Reading

Moose, Alces apces, compiled by Anthony Bell, Vertebrate Zoology Collections Assistant, Utah Museum of Natural History, https://nhmu.utah.edu/sites/default/files/attachments/Alces%20alces.pdf

Moose entering water, Jeff Rice, Western Soundscape Archive; University of Utah, https://collections.lib.utah.edu/details?id=1117822

Moose in Utah, Jason Pietrzak, Wild About Utah, Bridgerland Audubon Society/Utah Public Radio, 30 Sept 2008, http://wildaboututah.org/moose-in-utah/

Moose, Wild Aware Utah, Hogle Zoo & Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, http://www.wildawareutah.org/utah-wildlife-information/moose/

Utah Moose Statewide Management Program, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/hunting/biggame/pdf/moose_plan.pdf

Winter Encounters With Moose

Winter Encounters With Moose
Moose in Parking Log
Photo Courtesy US FWS
Ronald Laubenstein, Photographer

Winter Encounters With MooseCow Moose and Calf
Photo Courtesy US FWS
Tim Bowman, Photographer

Winter Encounters With MooseBull Moose
Courtesy & © 2007 Jason Pietrzak

Hi, I’m Ru Mahoney with Stokes Nature Center.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to visit Stokes Nature Center in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, you know that we’re located about a third of a mile up a narrow trail cut out of a steep slope of the Bear River Mountains on one side and dropping down into the rocky waters of the Logan River on the other. Which is why it’s always a particularly sobering experience, when making a winter morning trek up the aptly named River Trail to the nature center to find my way blocked by 1200 pounds of antlered bullish brown bulk, standing 6 feet at the shoulder. In case you’ve never happened upon a moose yourself, they are what happens when Mother Nature decides that the bulk of an NFL player and the legs of a supermodel should get together in one massively large and absurdly leggy Deer-zilla. And while I’ve never met a moose who’s bored browsing and indifferent glance didn’t make it pointedly, and yes, a little painfully obvious that I was far more impressed with them than they’ve ever been with me, they can pose a threat to the incautious admirer. While I don’t encounter moose every month of the winter, I do hear well-intentioned nature center visitors talk frequently about their own encounters, which too often include accounts of trying to get closer to snap a great picture.

Moose are the largest member of the deer family in North America, and are found in the north and northeastern forests of Utah. Despite their size and top heavy appearance, they thrive in watery environments. An adult moose doesn’t hesitate to wade into deep water to browse on aquatic vegetation and can often be spotted swimming effortlessly across lakes and marshes to get to prime grazing or escape a perceived threat. Their hollow hair makes them incredibly buoyant swimmers and keeps them well insulated against the cold both in and out of the water. In winter months they may leave frozen high alpine lakes and seek out forage on evergreens and bark, making encounters on lower elevation hiking trails more likely.

Male moose rut in the fall, tirelessly seeking out willing females. Easily distinguished by their large antlers, which can spread to more than 4 feet across, a bull moose in rut can become unexpectedly aggressive. Signs of aggression include laying back their ears, raised hair along their neck and licking their snout. Female moose don’t have the impressive antlers of their male counterparts, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they’re docile. A mother moose with her spring calf is quite possibly the most dangerous moose, and will use her powerful legs and sharp hooves to trample anything she thinks might be a threat to her babe. This includes the unlucky hiker or – more often – an unleashed dog.

Wild Aware Utah, a nonprofit offering education on how to reduce conflict with wildlife, recommends responding calmly to encounters with moose, talking loudly to let them know you’re there and leashing pets. Often the moose will move along on its own, uninterested in conflict. But if you find yourself in the bullseye of a moose’s ire, the best course of action is to back away slowly. And if you’re unlucky enough to be charged, get behind a tree or solid obstacle. Moose can run up to 35 miles an hour, which means you’re unlikely to outrun one, no matter how much adrenaline is fueling your flight.

To learn more about moose and how to prevent conflict with other Utah wildlife, visit WildAwareUtah.org.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Ru Mahoney.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy US FWS,
              Courtesy and Copyright 2007 Jason Pietrzak
Text:     Ru Mahoney, Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon.


Additional Reading:

http://www.wildawareutah.org/

http://wildlife.utah.gov/hardwareranch/comment/HRWMA_management_plan.pdf

https://wildlife.utah.gov/hunting/biggame/pdf/moose_plan.pdf

http://utah.ptfs.com/awweb/awarchive?type=file&item=10838

http://www.researchgate.net/publication/257449101_A_HISTORY_OF_MOOSE_MANAGEMENT_IN_UTAH

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/55461427-78/aoude-decline-moose-north.html.csp

http://wildaboututah.org/moose-in-utah/

http://www.utah.com/wildlife/northern.htm

Moose in Utah

Moose Courtesy and Copyright 2007 Jason Pietrzak, PTRZK.com
Moose
Courtesy and Copyright 2007 Jason Pietrzak, PTRZK.com


Hi, I’m Dick Hurren from Bridgerland Audubon Society.

If you’ve spent much time in the forests and wetlands of northern Utah, you may have been lucky enough to see one of North America’s most magnificent animals, the Moose.

The Moose is the largest member of the deer family, and one of the largest mammals to survive the last Ice Age. Utah’s subspecies of Moose is known as the Shiras,
or Wyoming Moose. Although the smallest subspecies of Moose in North America, it can grow to be nearly six feet tall and weigh as much as 1,000 pounds. Bull Moose
can grow a rack of antlers that reaches four feet across.

One might assume such an ancient and enormous animal has long existed in Utah, but in fact the Moose is one of Utah’s newer immigrants.
The first Moose in Utah were seen about 100 years ago, and the total population may have been less than 100 animals as late as the 1950s. Today, there are about 4,500
Moose throughout northern Utah. So how did the Moose become so plentiful in such a short time?

The Moose’s immigration to Utah looks like a case of perfect timing. Many of the Moose’s predators like Grizzly Bears, Wolves and Mountain Lions had been largely
exterminated. At the same time, logging was replacing mature forests with new meadows and scrub that Moose prefer. The combination of young growth and wetlands provided
the ideal habitat for Moose to thrive.

On top of these favorable conditions, human management has helped the Moose expand. Overwhelming demand for Moose hunting
has fostered strategies to encourage population growth.
More recently, there have been attempts to speed up the expansion of Moose by transplanting them to new mountain ranges.

Despite success in the last hundred years, Moose face many challenges in the next hundred. Maturing woodlands will be able to support fewer Moose.
Old predators are rebounding slightly and will take their toll. But the most difficult challenge the Moose may face is that of climate change.
The Moose evolved to survive in extreme cold climates. If temperatures continue to rise, the Moose will retreat
higher into the mountains and further north until one day this recent visitor returns to Wyoming or even further north.

The next time you visit the mountains, pay close attention to the streams and lakes particularly those surrounded by willows.
And you too may be lucky enough to see the moose.

For Wild About Utah I’m Dick Hurren.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy and Copyright Jason Pietrzak www.ptrzk.com

Text: Bridgerland Audubon Society – Jason Pietrzak, Dick Hurren

For More Information:

Utah’s Unbelievable Ungulates, Nature’s Call, Fall 1997, Utah Project Wild, Utah Division of Natural Resources, http://wildlife.utah.gov/projectwild/newsletters/97fall-gw.pdf

Where Do They Go When It Snows?!, Nature’s Call, Winter 1993, Utah Project Wild, Utah Division of Natural Resources, http://wildlife.utah.gov/projectwild/newsletters/93winter-nc.pdf