State deer managers now intend to keep deer numbers from exceeding 12 per square mile in northeast MN

Our Minnesota Department of Natural Resource’s recent decision for “moose-first” management of whitetails in our vast Arrowhead Region is based on the following: ongoing research has strengthened the understanding of disease and parasite transmission from deer to moose. Deer are the primary host which transmit fatal brain worm and liver fluke infestations to moose. Managing deer at lower, but stable numbers in primary moose range will reduce disease transmission and allow for habitat and other management activities to benefit moose.

Our state deer managers now intend to keep whitetail numbers below twelve per square-mile, the current believed maximum that should be allowed in deer/moose ranges. In this once great whitetail hunting region where deer numbers have long been less than half of numbers in most other regions in Minnesota, rather than continue to use “bucks only” hunting seasons to improve deer numbers, Minnesota hunters will now be allowed to take whitetails of either sex. It remains to be seen whether this plan will actually help improve or maintain current moose numbers. I personally believe it will fall short for two reasons.

First, whitetails are not the “only” primary hosts of brain worm infestations in northeastern Minnesota. Moose are also primary hosts. Not all infected moose die from brain worms. If all deer were somehow removed from the Arrowhead, infected moose hosts will continue to transfer potentially fatal brain worms to other moose. If whitetails not infested by brain worms were then allowed to again inhabit the same region, countless deer would soon become infested by brain worms, thanks to the presence of the primary hosts, infected moose. Which animal would then be blamed for the transmission of this disease? It doesn’t seem logical brain worm infestations among moose can be eliminated by eliminating or greatly reducing numbers of other animals living in the same region that also happen to be infested with brain worms.

The other reason is, despite being unaffected by brain worms, deer numbers in northeastern Minnesota have been unusually low in northeastern Minnesota for decades (in turn affecting moose numbers) because they are the primary prey of a now (arguably) historic high number of grey wolves in this region — made evident by the recent unprecedented, rapid expansion of the grey wolf geographic range into neighboring states. With deer numbers long being significantly lower than twelve per square-mile in the Arrowhead Region, exacerbated by recent severe winters, it is only logical our overabundant grey wolves have been forced to increase their hunting pressure on moose (plus domestic cattle), and this contributing factor to the demise of moose in northeast Minnesota will not likely change if deer numbers are reduced further or maintained at present levels.

Understandably, our MDNR game managers and most Minnesotans would agree something should be done to save our state’s fabled moose population. However, it is difficult to imagine allowing hunters to take does in the Arrowhead Region — where deer numbers have been substantially lower than twelve per square miles for decades and where as few as one deer have been taken by hunters in many ten-square-mile areas during recent hunting seasons — can significantly benefit moose. Unless something better is discovered that can break the chain of natural events that lead to infestations of brain worms in moose, these magnificent animals may inevitably become rare in Minnesota deer/moose ranges no matter what else is tried to prevent it. To make matters worse, recent studies suggest climate change may also be a mitigating factor.

Meanwhile, those of us who have long hunted whitetails in our Arrowhead region will again experience tough deer hunting this fall, probably next fall and perhaps many falls after that, all because of a worm and U.S. politicians who continue to ignore a long existing bill in Washington that needs to be passed in order to delist wolves as an endangered species in northeastern Minnesota.

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Letter to Minnesota Senators concerning the Wolf Bill

Dear Senator Klobuchar,

My name is Dr. Ken Nordberg. I am 81 years old and I’ve been a Minnesota deer hunter 71 of those years. After retiring from Dentistry in 1980, I became an outdoor writer. I am well known for my hunting-related studies of white-tailed deer (plus black bears and wolves) in Minnesota and elsewhere in the U.S. since 1970. My primary whitetail study area since 1990 is located in northern St. Louis County. I have written more than 700 magazine articles and published thirteen books based on my studies since 1988 and I am about to publish two more books (I once sat beside your father at a book signing). I’ve been a feature writer, writing about whitetails and whitetail hunting for Midwest Outdoor Magazine throughout the past 25 years.

My reason for writing to you is to ask you to not oppose the delisting of Minnesota’s grey wolves from the Endangered Species List. Decades of opposition to delisting wolves in the past on the premise “wolves within specific geographic regions should not be delisted when the greater population is still endangered” has allowed grey wolves in northeastern Minnesota to become overabundant to the extent that what was once one the best regions in Minnesota to hunt white-tailed deer (with populations up the 22 deer per square-mile) has become a state region least populated by whitetails. In some areas in the Arrowhead there are now as few as 2–4 deer per square-mile, according to recent MDNR surveys.

Though brain worms, carried by unaffected deer, are blamed by our MDNR for the current decline of moose in northeastern Minnesota (moose are declining everywhere in North America even where whitetails are not found), recent studies have proven grey wolves kill more of our moose than any other cause. Moreover, because young wolves can no longer find areas large enough to establish new home (hunting) ranges in northeastern Minnesota, they are now seeking ranges southward into urban and farm areas beyond the Twin Cities and eastward across Wisconsin into Upper Michigan. Young wolves cannot find new ranges across the border in adjacent Ontario because wolf numbers there are now at a historic high. The truth of the old axiom, “where predator numbers are high, numbers of their primary prey will be low and where predator numbers are low, numbers of the primary prey will be high,” couldn’t be better proven than by current populations of wolves, deer and moose in northeastern Minnesota.

Whatever can be done to try to halt the decline of moose and restore numbers of deer in our Arrowhead Region is seriously handicapped by our MDNR’s inability to control wolf numbers. To allow this dilemma to continue longer would certainly have serious consequences far into the future.

Again, please do not oppose the delisting of Minnesota grey wolves.

Sincerely,

Dr. Ken Nordberg

Attention Minnesota Deer Hunters

Attention MN deer hunters: March 13th is the deadline for telling our MDNR what you think about its plan to reduce deer numbers in NE Minnesota in an attempt to stop the current decline of moose in that region.

Our whitetails are being blamed for this decline because they are not affected by brain worms and are thus considered “carriers” of brain worms that are known to kill moose (not all of them). Brain worms have been passed back and forth between whitetails and moose via certain slugs and snails throughout the highs and lows of moose populations in recent decades and likely ever since moose migrated from Asia to North America 13,500 years ago. Moose researchers almost everywhere in North America today believe the current continent-wide decline of moose has multiple causes, including other parasites such as liver flukes and winter ticks, poor health related to insufficient moose habitat, climate change and wolf depredation. Underneath it all, especially following climate change, moose may simply be poorly adapted to living in North America today. Actually, the long-protected, increasingly-abundant gray wolves of northeastern Minnesota (now at a historic high just across the border in Ontario) kill more moose than anything else. Logically, our overabundant wolves have much if not most to do with low and declining numbers of remaining deer (which are unaffected by brain worms) and moose in the Arrowhead Region. No one disputes the fact that when and where wolf numbers are high, numbers of their primary prey, deer and moose, can be expected to be low and when wolf numbers are low, numbers of their primary prey can be expected to be high. Hunting by humans has had little effect in this region, as few as one deer taken per ten square-miles in recent years.

What our declining moose need most today is a drastic reduction of Minnesota wolves (seemingly impossible under current circumstances), an increase in numbers of easier-to-catch deer to reduce moose depredation by wolves and more improved moose habitat (including more of what moose eat to survive winters such as second-growth quaking aspens), long scarce in and around the heart of Minnesota’s Moose Management Area, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Our DNR plans to reduce numbers of whitetails in northeastern Minnesota’s Moose Management area (almost all of Arrowhead Region east of a line from Duluth to International Falls), to reduce the passage of the larval form of brain worms from deer to moose. Deer numbers in this region have never recovered from massive losses due to severe winters in the 1960s, after wolves became protected by the Endangered Species Act in 1972, and recent severe winters have reduced deer numbers there again, an estimated 2–4 deer per square-mile now not uncommon in this region according to recent DNR surveys. Logically, this has forced wolves to increase their dependence on moose meat.

If deer numbers are further reduced in this region, the grey wolves will become almost wholly dependent on moose meat, exacerbating the moose decline. Our DNR’s plan will not only adversely affect moose and deer numbers in what was once one of Minnesota’s finest whitetail hunting regions, but adversely affect wolves as well, likely forcing them to migrate south into urban and farm regions in search of food throughout Minnesota and east into Wisconsin and Upper Michigan as well, which is already happening. Our DNR is asking for public input on this moose plan. Please inform our DNR you do not approve of it before the deadline of March 13th. Your input can have great influence on the outcome. Call 651-296-6157 or 1-888-MINNDNR, send an email to info.dnr@state.mn.us or write to DNR Information Center, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4040. Please do it today!

Thank you,

Dr. Ken Nordberg

Minnesota’s New Moose Research & Management Plan

After studying the Minnesota Moose Research and Management Plan just released by our Department of Natural Resources, I believe this plan to bring a halt to the vexing problem of dwindling moose numbers in our state is as well-conceived and as scientifically sound as it can be under current circumstances. What I mean by “under current circumstances” is this: based wholly on what I have annually discovered in one small portion of Minnesota’s designated moose management area since 1990, I believe any plan that does not take into account the enormous impact our overabundant, long-unmanaged grey wolves have been having on moose and deer is terribly handicapped. I realize our DNR is currently powerless to manage our wolves, protected by federal judges and the Endangered Species Act. Nonetheless I can’t help but fear reducing deer numbers in the moose management area may not only force wolves to kill greater numbers of moose, exacerbating their demise, but force wolves to kill a greater percentage of remaining deer as well. This wouldn’t be good for moose, deer or wolves far into the future.

However, I also understand the urgency to proceed with this plan. Without trying to save our moose and without the funded research necessary to succeed, we may loose them all and never know why.

Minnesota Moose Research and Management Plan

DNR’s Main Page on Moose (Has a link to the new management plan.)

DNR’s Moose Hunting Page  (Has a link to the new management plan.)

 

Letter to Michael Nelson, Minnesota State Representative

Dear Mike,

Some statements made by our MDNR Commissioner (I wasn’t paying attention at first but I believe it was Commissioner Landwehr) in a recent newscast were so incredible that I felt obliged to do something about it. I sent a report to the MDNR that explains what has been happening to whitetail, wolf and moose numbers in my St. Louis County Whitetail Study area since 1990 and further explained why the commissioner’s plan for increasing moose numbers would be a terrible mistake.

The commissioner mentioned reducing deer numbers by half in northeast Minnesota to restore our dwindling moose population to, among other things, save our reputation as a state famous for “moose-watching.”  He also mentioned moose numbers are fine on Isle Royal where there are no deer, the implication being obvious. This was a startling revelation.

As you know, I am a writer well known for my hunting-related studies of whitetails (plus black bears and wolves) in Minnesota and elsewhere in the U.S. since 1970. I have published thirteen books based on my studies since 1988 and I am about to publish two more. I have written more than 700 articles about whitetails and whitetail hunting for various outdoor magazines since 1980 and I’ve been a feature writer, writing about whitetails and whitetail hunting, for MidWest Outdoor Magazine throughout the past 25 years. My primary whitetail study area since 1990 is located in St. Louis County.

Knowing you are an avid deer hunter and being my State Representative, I am sending a copy of my report to you for two reasons: 1) I want someone in our state government to understand why the commissioners plan is a mistake and 2) if our state government has any influence over what our DNR proposes to do, it would be good if this plan could somehow be discouraged by representatives in our state government (if for no other reason than it needs more study). I sincerely hope what you and others learn from my report will help influence those who favor reducing deer herds in the Arrowhead to change their minds.

Thank you,

Dr. Ken Nordberg