Minnesota Moose Population Crash Possibly Correlated With Climate Change

by John Laumer, Philadelphia on 02.19.11 Original article here

 

aerial view minnesota moose photo
The end is near. Image credit: Mark Lenarz. (excerpted from slide show)

I recently was chided a bit for suggesting (without having provided a link to supporting scientific evidence) that the behavior of a central-Wisconsin black bear emerging from its den in early February might well be attributed to climate change. (See Black Bear, Bummed Out By Climate Change, Falls Asleep In Backyard ….)

Today I feel lucky, having stumbled onto some related science. The population density of northern Minnesota moose has been falling for years and bull moose are decreasing in proportion to cow moose. No, it’s definitely not a poaching problem; nor is it a human hunting or wolf-predation caused fall off (see below for some data). There is, however, a potential correlation of the long term Minnesota moose population collapse with climate change.

Here are some brief (out of context) excerpts from a presentation made recently that summarized research into possible causes of the observed decline in Minnesota’s moose population. Source: Presentation “Minnesota Moose” by Mark S. Lenarz and Erika Butler Minnesota DNR, Division of Fish and Wildlife Wildlife Research Unit.

  • Moose have an upper critical temperature of 14º C in the summer and -5 º C in the winter (Renecker and Hudson 1986).
  • Moose increase their metabolic rate when these thresholds are exceeded in an attempt to maintain core body temperature.
  • Non-hunting mortality was correlated with temperature indices, both seasonally and annually and these temperature indices have been increasing over the last 50 years.
  • If increasing temperatures are the cause for the decreases in survival, the decline of the northeastern population will take place even more rapidly.

From the same presentation, here are summations of mortality causation and population trend.
ne-minnesota-moose-mortality-iimage.jpg 

moose-population-trend-image.jpg

Note: I am not personally suggesting that Minnesota moose are dying off mainly because they’re too hot, although, not being an expert, I can’t exclude the direct significance of heat stress, nor can I weigh the impacts on moose of changed seasons. The best thing to do if you are interested in understanding this is to dive into the full presentation and give it some consideration before you comment.

What I am saying, in general – regarding surrogate indicators of climate change – is that a bear crawling out of its den after a two-day Wisconsin February warm up is not a behavior that I’ve ever heard of before. There’s no evolutionary advantage for the bear to then fall asleep in the snow where he is vulnerable to predators. Sure…it happens in March or April; but, a February den emergence signals a change in nature.

Back to Bullwinkle.
Moose evolved to live in a boreal-like forest characterized, in part, by their fitness inside a certain band of seasonal temperatures. When these thermal optima shift upward, individual animals may migrate north and/or the overall moose population will decline. It is the nature of living things. Otherwise we’d have tapirs in Oklahoma and alligators in Maine.

So, I’m sticking with my intuition on this subject. What’s good for the Tea Party is good enough for me. Bears should be in their Wisconsin dens in February and Moose should flourish across northern Minnesota, assuming human-caused habitat changes and disease are shown not to be likely causes of the crash, for example.

All there is left to debate is whether and to what extent we humans are causing the climate to change.

If I lived in Minnesota and liked to hunt I would want to get to the bottom of this and would offer what ever support I could to the researchers studying the population crash. Same if I were a company making a rifle capable of downing a bull moose.

 

Reindeer or Caribou? Analysis at Discovery News

Analysis by Jennifer Viegas Thu Dec 23, 2010 Origial article here

Can the name Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer be used interchangeably with Rudolph the Red Nosed Caribou? Google the words “reindeer” and “caribou” together and you’ll see that they are often used to refer to the same animal.

Caribou
(Grazing reindeer/caribou; Credit- Dean Biggins, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

In this week’s Discovery News story concerning Christmas trees and reindeer, I use both words, noting that reindeer are called “caribou” in North America. The longer explanation may be much more complex, however.

Cornell University conservation scientist Jeff Wells told me that “the taxonomy of caribou is in flux as more detailed genetic analysis continues, but it is clear there are at least two (possibly more) evolutionary lineages represented in North American caribou.”

He explained that one represents a lineage that was pushed south during the last glaciations and survived in what is now the United States. The other survived either in northern Asia or in a western North American refuge before it colonized, or recolonized, the Arctic regions of North America. Animal experts refer to this latter group as the “migratory barren-ground form.” Not as catchy as “reindeer,” but more descriptive.

The bottom line is that some animals called “caribou” now may be what people in Finland and other countries refer to as reindeer, and some may not. There may even be yet another species in the mix. Additional research will hopefully solve the present puzzle.

There’s a serious aspect to such research beyond word play, as some reindeer/caribou herds are nearing extinction, while others are doing OK.

“The largely non-migratory woodland caribou and mountain caribou forms are classified as threatened, though some herds are classified as endangered and some as ‘special concern,'” Wells explained.

More accurate taxonomy will help to better identify the animals of highest priority for conservation. For now, though, unless you are a proper name purist, Rudolph the Red Nosed Caribou works just as well as his better known name.

 

Reindeer ‘cruelty’ slammed by rights group


TheLocal.se – Sweden’s news in english Published: 7 Dec 10, original article here.

Reindeer are being tormented when slaughtered, according to the animal rights organisation World Society for Protection of Animals (WSPA).

WSPA released a video on Monday that shows reindeer in distress when herded and transported, and while at the slaughterhouse.

“The film that we are showing is particularly shocking now that Christmas is upon us, but it clearly shows the cruel reality that reindeer are exposed to,” Roger Pettersson, secretary general of WSPA Sweden, said in a statement on Monday.

The footage also shows a reindeer being killed by a knife stab to the neck, as well as animals being earmarked by knife without anesthesia.

“This must be stopped immediately,” Pettersson told news agency TT on Monday.

WSPA tasked a journalist with investigating the conditions for reindeer on their way to slaughter.

“He followed the reindeer herding and observed the gathering, selection, transport and slaughter, and evidence shows a high stress level for the animals. The reindeer are stressed during transport and their antlers become entangled. Even during branding, the animals are treated poorly,” said Pettersson.

He said it is a challenge to handle reindeer, which are semi-domesticated animals and not accustomed to people.

“Densely packed into transport vehicles, reindeer antlers become weapons. They get caught in the sides of transport vehicles and they can even hurt each other before they reach the slaughterhouse,” Pettersson said in a statement.

As such, Pettersson advocated the use of smaller mobile slaughterhouses such that the slaughterhouse move, not the reindeer.

According to the WSPA, the problem of distressed reindeer is similar in all Nordic countries. It said it will call on the the Nordic Council of Ministers to urge it to act.

The council adopted a declaration in 2008 that animals should be treated as sentient beings, have intrinsic value, and should be respected accordingly.

However, the Swedish National Sami Association (Svenska Samernas Riksförbund, SSR) has rejected the WSPA’s claims that reindeer are subjected to cruel conditions and vowed to take action against herders who use unsanctioned methods.

“From the reindeer’s point of view, we do not accept slaughter methods that are not sanctioned by the authorities. We take a stand against individual reindeer owners who use knives in organised slaughter,” Jorgen Jönsson, the chairman of the SSR, said in a statement on Monday.

SSR national director Anders Blom added that he is adamantly against the use of a knife to kill reindeer.

“This is naturally something that is upsetting, but we have nothing against someone observing how we do our job. We have nothing to be nervous about,” SSR national director Anders Blom told TT on Monday.

“We only use approved methods and have been working with government agencies to create programs for the treatment of animals based upon existing regulations,” he added.

Research by the SSR, in collaboration with Sweden’s University of Agriculture(Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet, SLU), shows that the stress levels of reindeer which are slaughtered has decreased during the last couple of years and are now at acceptable levels, according to Blom.

“You measure the animals’ pH levels. The limit for a healthy animal that is not stressed during slaughter is 5.8. Fifteen years ago, 30 percent of the animals were above that value – today it is 8 percent. Most show no signs of stress,” he said.
TT/Vivian Tse (news@thelocal.se)

 

Changes in Consistency of Snow Causes Problems for Reindeer Herders in Scandinavia


Tuesday, 23 November 2010 10:56 Written by Jonni Skoglund, Sámiradio
Original article here

The consistency of snow has changed over the last twenty years. Observations at the Abisko Scientific Research Station in northern Sweden show that today’s snow contains more ice than before. This has created problems for reindeer owners, among others.

Alf Johansen, reindeer herder in Finnmark in north Norway is forced to feed his reindeer more often now to survive the winter. He points to two leading causes: stronger winds that create hard-packed snowdrifts which destroy the grazing land and mild periods in winter.

“Periods of mild temperatures combined with frost create ice. We know what that means. The reindeer will not graze,” Johansen says.

The consistency of snow has been measured at the Abisko Scientific Research Station since the 1960s. Researchers at Uppsala University have analysed the material and the results show that the amount of ice in the snow has increased from five to ten per cent.

“There are more layers of ice in the snow and we see in particular that the ice on the ground surface has increased considerably,” remarks Cecilia Johansson, meteorologist at Uppsala University.

The Uppsala scientists believe that this is because the average annual temperature has increased. “Winter temperatures are rising and this enables ice layers to form in the snow,” explains Cecilia Johansson.

For reindeer herder Alf Johansen this is disastrous. “Ice forms on the ground in periods with a milder temperature and this causes the reindeer to stop grazing.”

Reindeer and Other Herbivors Determine the Tree Line – Not Warmth

Monday, 29 November 2010 11:17 Written by Gustaf Klarin, SR Vetenskapsradion
Original article here
It is not principally a warmer climate that is making the tree line creep upwards in many directions in the Swedish mountains. This is shown in a new study from the Torneträsk region in northern Sweden. There are several other factors that affect the spread of trees more than higher temperatures.

It is mainly grazing reindeer, insect attacks, and several other factors that affect the spread of the mountainous forest, more than the changed temperature situation.

“Tree line can go up, down or stay in the same position even during the same climatic period. That has not being showed before,” says Terry Callaghan, director of the Abisko Scientific Research Station.

Researchers were able to see that precisely reindeer grazing affects more than the temperature, since the tree line advanced furthest upward during the cold period that started in the late 1960s and continued through the 1970s, it was a time of fewer reindeer.

A warmer climate has more of an indirect effect through, for example, there being more insects that can damage trees.

Many climate models expect the forest in the tundra and the upper Arctic will expand heavily northward in the next hundred years because of higher temperatures. But the new research indicates that the assumptions may be grossly inaccurate. The effect of grazing reindeer and moose must be reckoned with.

“We can not just expect the tree line to move northwards, we have to look in more detail,” Terry Callaghan says.

Municipality in Iceland’s West Fjords Wants Reindeer

Icelandic reindeer. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.

(Iceland Review News, 24 November 2010) — The minority in the district council of the Vesturbyggd municipality in the southwestern West Fjords want to apply for a permit from the Environment Agency of Iceland to establish an up to 4,000-animal wild reindeer stock in the West Fjords. Currently, there are only reindeer in east Iceland. According to the proposal, reindeer are to be transported from the east and with time, form a large reindeer stock which could roam the area and serve as a source of income for the municipality, ruv.is reports. Proposals to that end have been rejected before due to fear of impact on farming in the region and  possible diseases being transmitted to sheep. However, the minority in Vesturbyggd’s district council reasons there is no risk in relocating reindeer to the west as there are no examples of reindeer having infected sheep in east Iceland. Also, the number of sheep in the West Fjords has dropped significantly in the recent decades. The proposal is awaiting review.

Original article here

Finland to help reindeer herders

SIKU News, November 5th 2010
Original article here
Some measures will target Saami herders.

Changes in Finland are expected in the system of public supports for reindeer herding to help the younger generation take over operations from their parents.

The government is proposing a package of measures that will also help more young people start their own businesses.

In addition to support already made available to reindeer herders, young people will be able to apply for money to expand their herds and to purchase equipment, such as snowmobiles.

Supports will be more regionally focused, as well, with measures targeted at helping Saami.

Further south, special funds will be made available for fencing off cultivated fields and fencing in some grazing lands.

The terms and conditions to qualify to receive public supports for setting up a reindeer herding operation will remain the same.

Those include making it a full-time job, based on one’s own farm. However, the proposed package will raise the present funding of around two million euros a year by several hundred thousand euros.