REGIONAL— Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order on Tuesday that immediately puts a halt to the collaring of moose calves and adults in Minnesota. The decision means that another round of moose …
REGIONAL— Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order this week that immediately puts a halt to the collaring of moose calves and adults in Minnesota. The decision means that another round of moose calf collaring set to begin within days won’t happen as originally planned.
The governor’s decision comes in the wake of recent reports that first appeared in the Timberjay regarding moose deaths resulting from capture by researchers working with the Department of Natural Resources.
A statement from the governor’s office noted that the reports “brought to light that collaring of moose has resulted in the deaths of some adult moose, and puts calves in danger of abandonment by their mothers and may lead to a higher incidence of mortality.” Dayton’s executive order requires that the DNR end the radio collaring practice immediately, and indefinitely.
“I respect that DNR researchers are trying to understand why our moose population is declining,” said Dayton. “However, their methods of collaring are causing too many of the moose deaths they seek to prevent. Thus, I will not authorize those collaring practices to continue in Minnesota.”
Since 2013, the DNR has used GPS tracking collars on moose adults and calves in order to learn more about the factors contributing to the declining moose population in Minnesota. Currently, more than 70 percent of young moose do not survive their first winter in Minnesota.
The DNR had come under increasing criticism in the wake of two recent investigative reports in the Timberjay, including an April 10 story that revealed DNR officials had disregarded advice from their own veterinarian, who had raised concerns that collared moose calves could be abandoned by their mothers. In addition, the Timberjay had cited researchers with the Alaska Fish and Game Department who had discontinued moose calf collaring out of concern over a relatively high level of abandonments. The Alaska research had found that even those moose calves that were not abandoned experienced a greater mortality rate than calves that were left alone.
Just last week, the Timberjay had reported that the DNR suspended its adult moose collaring early this year after five of the adults died as a result of their capture.
“I’m thrilled,” said Robin Johnson, who founded the organization Save Minnesota Moose. Johnson, who had been raising money to help support the DNR research, became increasingly concerned as the number of capture-related moose deaths continued to mount. “We saw that even as other states were ending their calf collaring over concerns about abandonment, we were continuing to make the same mistakes,” Johnson said. “It feels really good to have a wonderful governor who cares about our wildlife,” she added.
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr voiced support for the governor’s decision. “I understand and empathize with those who were concerned by the unintended loss of moose in this study. We support the decision to end this phase of the research.”
According to Landwehr, the DNR will continue to analyze data from the remaining 100 collared adult moose to understand why the state’s moose population continues to decline. The collars were designed to last several years and should provide researchers with greater insights into the causes of moose mortality. “The DNR is committed to using all the information from this study to advance the understanding of the decline and look for potential solutions.”
At the same time, Landwehr called for an inquiry into the problems that have plagued the moose project. “Any time we have something seriously wrong, it requires us to go back and do an incident review and determine what went wrong and how do we prevent this from happening in the future,” he said.
But Landwehr said he sees the experience with the moose research as on “outlier” in terms of the agency’s overall research program, which he believes still enjoys strong support from the public. Landwehr said Dayton’s decision will free up funding that had been earmarked for moose collaring for other research projects that hadn’t received funding earlier.
Erika Butler, the former DNR veterinarian who had raised concerns early on about possible calf abandonment and mistreatment, said she was gratified to learn of the governor’s decision. Butler, who was forced out of the DNR shortly after putting her concerns about calf mistreatment “on the record,” now works at an animal hospital in Fort Frances, Ontario. “I think the big thing was the quotes [in the Timberjay’s April 10 story] from the Alaska researchers and that really made a difference,” she said.
Butler said she continues to support the moose research effort, but believes the program must have more oversight and needs to develop methods that don’t overly threaten the survival of the research subjects.
Both Butler and Johnson said the DNR also needs to be more forthcoming about the research program in general.
“There was a lot of covering up going on,” said Johnson, and she said even top officials within the Legislative and Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) were left in the dark about some of the problems, even though the commission provided the vast majority of funding for the research. Butler said the Timberjay’s April 24 report on the high number of adult moose that died as a result of capture earlier this winter, was probably the last straw. “The LCCMR didn’t even know about that,” she said.