ESCANABA - The last time I saw a U.P. moose up close and personal was back in 1987 during what was called "Moose II".
It was, for the second time, a joint project undertaken by the State of Michigan and Province of Ontario to trans-locate this species of wildlife for re-introduction to the Upper Peninsula. A previous effort saw 29 moose released in 1985 in the region of southern Baraga County near Lake Michigamme.
The second wave, also within the same region, would total 30 moose, all ranging in weight from 750 to 1,250 pounds.
Photo courtesy of Scott Nieuwenkamp
A young bull moose is seen grazing in Cornell just north of the Rusty Rail bar/restuarant recently.
The moose were originally located within the 3,000 square mile Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada.
"The project was an unprecedented, historic operation. The wind chill at times reached 100 degrees below zero. Utilizing helicopters, tranquilizing dart guns and slings, some moose were air-lifted as much as 14 miles from the capture area to the base camp," according to a MDNE report.
It went on to say that, "At base camp, each animal was subjected to thorough medical testing and was fitted with a sophisticated radio collar, before being lifted into a shipping crate and placed onto a transport truck for the non-stop 600 mile overnight journey to Michigan."
After being released, it was relatively easy to monitor the newly established resident population of moose at least for the first decade.
According to Dean Beyer, wildlife research biologist for the MDNRE, "At first, the size and growth of the herd was determined through a simple process - similar to balancing a checkbook. Because all moose were radio- collared, biologists could monitor each animal and tell when it died, and they could follow cows to record any births. The population could be tracked simply by adding the number of calves born and subtracting the number of animals that died."
The task became more difficult to sustain as advancing moose were not radio collared and dispersal patterns were not clearly known. In 1996 and 1997 the MDNRE conducted aerial surveys, which had been the most common method of estimating moose numbers. The numbers derived from the study were lower than estimates from the standard population model.
According to a MDNRE report, "With the help of the Michigan Involvement Committee of Safari Club International, which also provided the single largest financial contribution to the first moose lift, the MDNRE began a more intensive study of the reintroduced population in 1999, in cooperation with Michigan State University.
Other sources of funding and research assistance came from the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Fund and Michigan Tech University.
Since then, the goal of having a large population of moose has not been achieved. It has shown continued moderate growth, on average, between five and 10 percent each year. The research also has shown that poaching, moose/car accidents, brainworm and wolves are not major factors influencing the moose population as the most recent data indicates.
The moose has been a protected animal in Michigan since 1889. It is listed as a game animal and there is a proposal before the legislature to create the first hunting season.
It would be similar to that used for elk in northern Lower Michigan, a lottery, designating a number to be taken that would not impact the progress and growth of the herd. It would be the duty of the Natural Resources Commission to determine the method and manner of take.
According to MDNRE wildlife biologist Bill Rollo, "Moose have a longer gestation period than do deer and therefore their 'rutting' (or) mating season begins in late September to early October."
Male moose will range an incredible distance in pursuit of female companionship. While most of the resident herd remains in the cooler northern climate, also known as the higher snowfall zone, there have been some recent sightings of bull moose in the south central area of the UP.
A young bull was reported to have been spotted southwest of Rapid River.
A short time later, another was seen near the store in Cornell. One citizen, Scott Nieuwenkamp from Perkins, spotted a young bull just north of the Rusty Rail bar/restaurant in Cornell and had the wherewithal to grab his camera and snap a picture.
Scott stated that he, "carries the disposable camera with him and had to scramble to take the picture."
The bull moose came out of the woods and almost crossed the road. When it became aware of his (Nieuwenkamp's) presence, it turned around and headed back.
Although grainy, the picture clearly indicates the young bull has good antler development with an outside spread estimated at about 48 inches. The land area seen is clearly identifiable and the moose looked to be in good health.
Rollo said this is the first picture of a moose in the area that they know of. It is also an indicator the bull may have company. Another report showed a cow moose in the Watson/Arnold area of southern Marquette County. Track measures checked by Rollo also confirm the presence of the animal.
Hoof size of an adult moose can measure from five inches in length to that of a standard sheet of paper when the dewclaws are included. It is possible that the local moose sightings is the same animal.
There has also been a recent report of a truck/moose accident in the Crystal Falls area of Iron County, which killed the moose, and some have been seen in northern Delta County within the west complex of the Hiawatha National forest.
From seeing the first of their ancestors released over 90 miles away, it is exciting to see, nearly a quarter century later, that the moose remains loose in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Tim Kobasic is outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet Saturday mornings.