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Collaboration looks to boost moose habitat across northeast Minnesota

Ely Echo - Staff Photo - Create Article
Seth Moore, wildlife biologist with the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, finishes administering tests and attaching a collar to a moose in February 2016 on the Grand Portage reservation north of Grand Marais, Minn., as part of the band’s ongoing research of northeastern Minnesota’s moose population. Derek Montgomery for MPR News 2016

Since 2013, the ‘Minnesota Moose Collaborative’ has implemented a variety of habitat enhancement treatments across the core moose range in northeast Minnesota using funds provided from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature and recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.

The funds help to restore, protect, and enhance Minnesota’s wetlands, prairies, forests, and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife. Partners and Bands in the Minnesota Moose Collaborative included three organizations; five federal, state, and counties; two Bands and the 1854 Treaty Authority; and two universities.

Why are habitat enhancement treatments needed?

While the 2023 population estimate of 3,290 moose marks a decade of Minnesota’s moose population remaining relatively stable [1], this iconic species’ still needs assistance of partners, Bands and caring parties to make sure the species thrives for years to come.

Moose rely on young vegetation to fuel their large bodies. Other impacts to moose numbers include disease, parasites, wolf and bear predators, as well as deer populations. Historically, large-scale wildfire, and later, widespread timber harvest, provided good habitat and browse conditions for moose across NE Minnesota.

However, without consistent, large-scale, natural disturbance on the landscape from wildfire and wind events, wildlife managers use vegetation management techniques like timber harvest to mimic these disturbances for moose habitat creation. Partners and Bands within the collaborative have been coordinating timber harvest and prescribed fires across land management boundaries to try to obtain the large amounts of disturbance that moose prefer.

For example, if one land management agency has a timber sale without enough volume for a merchantable timber sale, they can work with partners and the Bands to focus on moose habitat instead.

The Forest Service uses authorities such as the Good Neighbor Authority to work with other land management agencies to create timber sales and vegetation projects that are more marketable.  In turn, tens of thousands of acres that did not have enough volume for a merchantable timber sale can become moose habitat.

Descriptions of treatments used include:

Mechanical site preparation or shearing treatments prepare an area for regeneration and reduce competition from brush and undesirable tree species.

The equipment types and operating season depend on the site conditions, such as soil moisture and vegetation. The treatment can be used in stands with low stocking and undesirable regeneration, or post-harvest as a secondary treatment.

Shearing, cutting, and burning of old decadent brush to stimulate regrowth provides more palatable, nutritious, and easy to reach vegetation for moose.

Prescribed fire within well-defined boundaries can be used to reduce fuel hazards, as a resource management treatment, or both. Burn intensity varies throughout the treatment unit depending on vegetation, fuels, and topography. These burns create a new, young stand.

Unburned areas or lightly burned areas within the unit can provide a matrix of habitat. Future maintenance burns may be necessary to meet project objectives.

“The boreal forest landscape is fire dependent, and moose are an integral part of that relationship,” said Mike Schrage, Wildlife Biologist for the Fond du Lac Resource Management Division.

“Large fires or other kinds of disturbance in patches of 1,000 to 100,000 acres create the kind of young forests moose need to provide them with abundant, high-quality browse. Fire not only can provide good browse conditions for moose but can help in reducing moose parasites as well. Forest managers cannot use large fires as a management tool everywhere on the landscape, but timber harvest and other kinds of vegetation management can be used to replicate the same kinds of young forest patches moose need,” said Schrage.

“In northeast Minnesota we have seen moose respond very positively to conditions created by large fires such as the 2005 Trout Lake prescribed burn and the 2011 Pagami Creek fire. In other areas, moose continue to do well where ongoing timber harvest and other kinds of vegetation management provide good habitat conditions for them,” said Schrage.

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