I had the good fortune recently to get a good look at eight moose, most with antlers! They were strolling through a harvested small grain field west of Bottineau. I bet they were not three hundred yards away. We pulled off the highway and watched them for several minutes. They are magnificent animals, but they look like they were designed by a committee!
Historically moose occupied Turtle Mountain, Pembina Hills, the Red River and its tributaries, and perhaps the wooded areas around Devils Lake. But like a lot of other big game, the moose population plummeted during the late 1800’s and into the 1900’s. They were considered extirpated until they began to show up in the 1950’s, assumedly by moving in from Minnesota or perhaps Manitoba. By 1977 North Dakota held its first moose hunting season, and moose continue to be a popular game species for that once in a lifetime opportunity to harvest one.
The traditional areas for moose hunting were mainly the Turtle Mountains and Pembina Hills. But things have changed. The moose populations in Turtle Mountain and Pembina Hills have declined significantly. Last fall there were 470 tags available for moose, but the Turtle Mountain and Pembina Hills units have been closed the past few year due declining numbers.
More than one factor may be involved with the moose decline, but the decline is increasingly attributed to a brainworm which alternates between two hosts: a deer and a snail or slug. It causes little if any apparent damage to whitetail deer but is often fatal to moose and elk. If a moose, for example, inadvertently consumes an infected snail or slug while feeding on aquatic plants or perhaps other forages, the larvae travel to the brain where it disrupts and or destroys brain cells. Directly or indirectly, it often proves fatal.
It appears that a combination of abundant water, snails/slugs, and a high deer population does not make for a healthy and robust moose population. Perhaps if the wetlands dry down and the deer population drops, the brainworm will not be as problematic for the moose. I guess we will just have to wait and see.