A topic of extreme interest lately has been the demise of the Monico moose. If you haven’t heard about it already, a cow (female) moose was hit by a car on Hwy. 45 north of Monico on Feb. 28. The moose was killed, the car was devastated, but the driver was reportedly OK. The weight of the moose was estimated at 600 pounds, but this would be light for an adult female. They typically weigh 725 to 850 pounds, and stand about six feet tall at the front shoulder.
I suspect this is the same moose that was sighted multiple times in the same general vicinity throughout late winter and early spring 2012. The first report I received was of multiple moose tracks in the snow crossing the highway in the same area last January. In fact, there appeared to be two tracks side by side. Photos submitted to our rare mammal observation website from that same area in March showed two moose. Could this have been the same cow moose and her yearling calf? Possibly. Moose have been known to travel great distances, but their natural preference is to stay in a home territory of about four to six square miles.
Moose sightings are nothing new to Northwoods residents. Every year I have had reports of moose observations. The Department of Natural Resources tracks observations of rare mammals, including moose, reported by DNR staff and the public. In 2010, we received 65 reports of moose sightings in northern Wisconsin counties. A large bull was regularly sighted and photographed in Oneida County that spring. About one third of the reports that year came from Vilas and Oneida counties; they included a small number of cow moose reports from the Haymeadow Creek and Pelican River drainages. In 2011, there were only 25 reports of moose, four from Oneida County. Of those, three occurred near Monico. The observations from 2012 have yet to be assembled.
What is it about the Monico area that makes it a moose magnet? Any kind of wildlife can turn up anywhere, but it is only going to settle in and make itself at home if its life needs are met. Consequently, the areas that regularly attract and hold moose for extended periods have something valuable to offer. The Monico area fits that bill, due likely in part to its squishiness. Moose are a very distant relative of the deer family. They are even-toed hoofed animals with antlers that shed every year. However, they are extremely different from deer, in a separate family. I tend to think of moose as more water-dependent than deer; I joke about them being semi-aquatic because they spend so much time in the water. They even have a flap inside their nostrils so they can easily feed underwater. Moose are browsers that eat the leaves and buds of trees and shrubs that grow in or near wet bottomlands. Willow, alder, maple, birch, beaked hazel and balsam fir are some identified foods. Furthermore, they enjoy eating submerged aquatic plants like pondweed and water lilies. These kinds of plants are abundant in our Northwoods creeks, rivers, lakes and flowages. If you check out the rare mammal observation reports on the DNR website, you will see maps of the reported moose locations each year; they clearly follow the rivers of northern Wisconsin.
It is doubtful we will ever have a large native moose population here because of our climate. However, when you consider the moose populations in Minnesota and northern Michigan, it seems likely that small numbers of animals will continue to travel into our reaches of Wisconsin and settle in any number of our forested wetlands. If you see a moose and wish to report it, take a photo if possible, note the location and enter everything you can remember into our rare mammal observation website, dnr.wi.gov, keyword “large mammal observation,” or call or email me.
Jeremy Holtz is a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR and writes a weekly column in the Star Journal. To contact him, call (715) 365-8999.