A mystery: Declining Prairie moose populations

Moose populations are in decline in many parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and scientists, although they have some theories, aren’t exactly sure why. If the numbers get any lower, hunting these animals might be increasingly restricted.

Flatlander reader Percy in Portage La Prairie suggested this week’s topic. Concerned about declining Prairie moose populations in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, he asked me to look into why this might be.

I’m surprised to learn moose are on the decline in North America. Since I live near Pierceland, in Northern Saskatchewan, I occasionally see moose walking along the highway.

Down south, moose crossing signs can be seen along the highway between Regina and Saskatoon. Certainly, this wasn’t the case 20 years ago.

And recently, last fall, a moose literally broke into a school in Saskatoon. Of course, this made international news, because only in Canada, right?

A moose in the forest. Declining Prairie moose populations
Getty Images.

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TL;DR: In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, declining moose populations have scientists puzzled, although there are some theories. If these numbers get any lower, hunting moose might be increasingly restricted

Predators, like wolves and bears, make it difficult for moose calves to make it to adulthood. The Nature of Things did an episode about the difficulties young moose face.

Basically juveniles are prone to wolves and bears.

Other problems include disease and parasites, such as liver flukes, brain worms and winter ticks. Evidentially, the later two thrive in the warmer temperatures caused by climate change.

When it comes to brain worms, deer are immune. But moose, elk, and caribou are not. The worms damage their nervous systems. The animals become weak, fearless and lack co-ordination. They also go deaf. Their vision becomes impaired. And paralysis and death can follow.

To monitor the brain worm situation, the province collects white-tailed deer heads for examination. Hunters can drop them off at their Sustainable Development offices in Lac du Bonnet, Pine Falls and Seven Sisters.

Where are the declining Prairie moose populations?

The government heavily controls moose hunting in the Duck and Porcupine Mountain areas because of those areas’ declining moose populations.

However, the question then becomes should conservation trump Indigenous hunting rights. As such, the Manitoba Metis Federation and the provincial government have gone toe-to-toe over this issue.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Manitoba Chapter also lists declining moose populations around The Pas, Hodgson and Boissevain.

As well, aerial surveys note declining moose populations in Saskatchewan’s southern commercial forestry area. This includes the woods around Carrot River, Hudson Bay and Big River.

Over the last 10 years, ariel surveys, just south of Meadow Lake, show a 30 per cent decline in that moose population.

It may be tempting to blame the forestry industry. However, moose typically benefit from logging activity. They like to eat young growth and shrubs.

Predators may be to blame for declining Prairie moose populations

Predators, like wolves, may be using access roads to get to moose habitat. To stop this in Manitoba, some roads and trails have been closed. Additionally, barricades at river crossings make it harder for wolves to access moose habitat. Removing culverts helps too.

Furthermore, Manitoba extended the hunting season on wolves to keep their numbers down.

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In the southern half of Saskatchewan, moose are doing well, where over the last 30 years, moose have been making farmland their home. Saskatchewan actually has more southern dwelling moose than Manitoba and Alberta, but the reason why is unclear.

Moose are valuable to both Manitoba and Saskatchewan because big game hunting is important to rural economies. For instance, in Saskatchewan, the government authorizes outfitting for non residents. And 300 guided moose licenses are available annually. Moose are also culturally important to Indigenous people up north.

 If moose populations continue to decline, the government may continue to limit hunting of the animal. Therefore, it’s an issue worth keeping an eye on.

Five stories from Manitoba you may have missed

  1. A bridge in Selkirk closed because of rising water levels.
  2. Winnipeg is considering regulations for short-term property rentals like Airbnb.
  3. Some health-care workers may forgo their summer vacations so Manitoba can reduce its backlog of surgeries.
  4. A bit of history: 25 years ago a massive April blizzard led to the ‘flood of the century.
  5. A First Nation in northern Manitoba says it has identified 85 children it believes died at a residential school run by the Roman Catholic Church.

Five stories from Saskatchewan you may have missed

  1. A Saskatchewan man popularized the compilation album back in the day.
  2. Saskatchewan leads Canada in greenhouse gas emissions per capita.
  3. Almost 60 per cent of Saskatchewan nurses considered leaving the profession in the past year.
  4. There’s new legislation to help grow Indigenous involvement in the Saskatchewan economy.
  5. The University of Saskatchewan announces a tuition increase.

Photo of the week

Cyprus Hills, Saskatchewan at sunset.
Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan at sunset. Getty Images.

Some reader feedback from last week’s issue Fracking – Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Poison in the lungs.

John wrote: “Big companies have deep pockets and most of them will do any thing to increase productivity there for increased stock value. NOT TO BE TRUSTED.”

Harold wrote: “Besides the enormous volume of water fracking requires, the process requires a cocktail of chemicals (besides silica) to be injected underground. It is my understanding that the contents of this cocktail are not public information.”

Related to Harold’s comments, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a study that identified 1,084 different chemicals in fracking formulas used between 2005 and 2013.

Common ingredients include methanol, ethylene glycol, and propargyl alcohol, which are hazardous to human health.

The EPA also recognized fracking has the potential to contaminate drinking water in the same way an oil spill contaminates the environment. There’s always a risk, which is ultimately up to the government to assess.

The American Petroleum Institute said citric acid, benzene or lead can also be in the fracking chemical mix and can be hazardous if not properly isolated and stored.

It’s unclear what chemicals are used in fracking in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

There is a Canadian public database called FracFocus where companies can disclose this information, but there is no information about what is being used in fracking in our provinces, whereas, in Alberta and British Columbia, companies are required to disclose this information.

Meanwhile, until next week…

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Thanks for reading, and kind regards,

Kelly-Anne Riess

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