Nature taking its course…..
Back in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, the animated TV character Bullwinkle was about the only moose North Dakota residents would see.
By Marvin Baker
By the late 1960s, moose began moving into the Pembina Hills and established a population until 1977 when an estimated 260 animals were recorded by the North Dakota Game & Fish Department to be a nuisance for area landowners. Also in 1977, Game & Fish issued 10 moose licenses in the Walhalla area, and by 1985, that number was bumped up to 100.
If you were a North Dakota resident and had never seen a moose before, all you would have had to do is take a drive to the Pembina Gorge or the Frost Fire area of Cavalier County and you could bet on seeing at least one moose. A similar phenomenon was happening in the Turtle Mountains north of Bottineau, but the population there didn’t continue to increase like it had in the Pembina Hills. Still, Game & Fish continued to issue 100 once-in-a-lifetime licenses every year to bag an animal in either of those two locations.
But biology began to change the legacy of this huge, cumbersome animal. The moose population in the northeast was found with brain worm, and the population began to thin out. As that was being discovered, most of the moose population in North Dakota began shifting westward. In fact, Game & Fish last took a moose population in the Pembina Hills in 2014 and could only find two healthy critters. Northwestern North Dakota, however, had begun to see an explosion in population. It’s not the magnitude of Minnesota or Manitoba, but moose were being seen more frequently in the Kenmare, Tolley and Powers Lake areas.
Brain worm is uncommon in the northwest, and another moose disease, liver fluke, had never been recorded in the northwestern quadrant. Data analysis continues on a three-year moose research study in the Kenmare area and the Missouri River bottoms southeast of Williston. The research focuses on annual survival, cause-specific mortality, reproduction rates, annual and seasonal movements and home range use as well as seasonal habitat selection.
“The value of this research is a great thing as it will have direct management implications on moose in North Dakota,” Game & Fish biologist Jeb Williams said. “The research is valuable in that it shows our moose population is stable and increasing. We can show the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service this with the research.”
The moose hunting season in the northeast was halted in 2005 and hasn’t been reinstated. However, Game & Fish maintained its 100 licenses until 2015 when the number was bumped up to 200 primarily because additional moose were now being seen in the Devils Lake area as well as east of Minot. In 2018, Game & Fish issued a whopping 334 moose licenses because the population in areas outside of the Pembina Hills is growing that rapidly, according to Game & Fish.
Unfortunately, along with the population increase comes an uptick in moose/vehicle collisions. They are becoming more frequent, especially in the northwest. We all realize that hitting a deer will cause substantial damage to a vehicle. Now think about an animal that weighs 1,000 pounds instead of a deer, which is usually 150 to 200 pounds?
Two recent accidents involved a semi-trailer hitting a moose on N.D. Highway 5 near Tolley. The semi cab was a total loss. And, an elderly Saskatchewan couple collided with a moose on N.D. Highway 28 just north of Carpio. Their car was totaled, and they both suffered minor injuries.
Game & Fish advises that if we encounter a moose on the highway, we should stop as quickly as possible but not to swerve as that could cause us to lose control of the vehicle. If you can’t stop in time, the best thing to do is slow as much as possible and hit it head on. And what do you do if you hit one? Assess the damage and call law enforcement to put it down because chances are, you won’t kill it.
Moose, especially males, like to wander and will frequently cross less traveled North Dakota highways and county and township roads. They are rarely seen on major roads such as U.S. Highway 85, U.S. Highway 2, U.S. Highway 52 and U.S. Highway 83.
We like to see additional wildlife in the state, but we need to be careful on the highway and hunters can enjoy much better odds.