ROSCOMMON, Mich. (WJMN) – The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released details of a 2023 moose population survey in the Western Upper Peninsula on Thursday.
The DNR says the results, which showed a slight decline from the previous report, were not statistically different from the most recent survey recorded in 2019.
“The 2023 moose survey estimate was 426 individuals, which is not statistically different from the 2019 estimate of 509 individuals,” said Tyler Petroelje, northern Michigan wildlife research specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in Marquette. “This continues the trend of plateauing abundance where population growth over the last 12 years is now less than 1%.”
During the 2023 winter survey, the DNR says researchers tallied 212 individual moose, 20% fewer than the 266 moose observed on the 2019 survey. A point estimate indicated a 16% decline in moose abundance.
“Looking at demographic data, with respect to previous surveys, we observed a comparable – but low – cow-to-calf ratio and percentage of calf numbers,” Petroelje said. “A potentially concerning observation is the lesser percentage of twins seen during this survey (9%) compared to the 10-year average of 15%.”
Petroelje said fewer twins, combined with a lesser bull-to-cow ratio could point to a recruitment issue, which is the number of individuals added to a population over a given time by either births or moose from other areas immigrating to the U.P.
The moose surveys are conducted in the air over core moose habitat areas during winter to identify and tally bulls, cows and calves. This past winter’s survey was conducted by the DNR during January and February.
The moose core range covers about 1,400 square miles in the western U.P. in parts of Marquette, Baraga, and Iron counties. Moose were translocated to the area from Canada in two separate efforts in 1985 and 1987.
The DNR says the remainder of the U.P. is not surveyed for moose but some pockets of higher quality habitat are occupied by lesser numbers of moose, as seen in the eastern U.P. region. Moose have been observed there since the 1950s.
The DNR says its wildlife biologists will continue to monitor recruitment in the population in future surveys to determine whether a trend is developing or if 2023 was a poor calf year.
“Another factor that has affected the moose in the western U.P. is that 2022 was a high year for moose-vehicle crashes,” said John Pepin, DNR deputy public information officer in Marquette. “Collisions involved at least 20 moose last year in the western U.P. We remind motorists to watch for moose, especially when traveling at night.”
With the Moose Hunting Advisory Council’s recommendation to only allow moose hunting if a growth rate of greater than 3% is maintained, the DNR is not recommending implementing a hunting season. The same was true over the past several survey result years.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has been surveying the western U.P.’s core moose population since 1997, typically every other winter. The 2023 survey marks the first survey completed since 2019 due to scheduling conflicts associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The results of the survey were reported to the Michigan Natural Resources Commission in Roscommon on Thursday.