Michigan moose on the loose — and on the rebound

By CARL STODDARD
Capital News Service

LANSING — About three years ago, a sign went up outside the U.P. Trading Co. in Newberry that says, “Report Your Moose Sightings Here.” Inside is an area map where people who’ve spotted moose can mark the spot with a pushpin.

Moose can be hard to find, but the map is slowly filling in with pushpins, said Sharon Magnuson. She and her husband, Bill, own the U.P. Trading Co. and an adjacent store called the Exclusive Moose.

The village of Newberry, about  21 miles southwest of Tahquamenon Falls State Park in the Upper Peninsula, is the official “Moose Capital of Michigan.” That designation helps bring in tourists, Magnuson said.

“We do get a lot of people … coming up for that reason,” she said.

The U.P., excluding Isle Royale National Park, has fewer than 500 moose but their numbers are growing, according to recent  Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates.

About 100 moose live in the eastern U.P., “spread across portions of Alger, Schoolcraft, Luce and Chippewa counties … ranging across a 1,200-square-mile area,” the DNR said in a June 12 report. Newberry is in Luce County.

That same report said wildlife biologists estimate the number of moose in the western U.P. at 378 animals, up from 285 in 2015.

The western U.P. moose range over about 1,400 square miles in parts of Marquette, Baraga and Iron counties, the DNR said.

Moose in the eastern U.P. got there on their own. But moose in the western U.P. were relocated there from Ontario in 1985 and 1987, said John Pepin, the DNR deputy public information officer in Marquette.

Candy Kozeluh remembers watching some of those moose being helicoptered into the area back in 1985. She was 10 years old and going to school in Marquette.

Today, she’s the recreation director for Travel Marquette, based in one of the western U.P. counties with a growing moose population.

“We don’t have exact data, but we have noticed more calls coming in” about where to see moose, said Kozeluh, whose organization is part of the Marquette County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Kozeluh said she often suggests visitors go the Greenwood Reservoir, 10 miles southwest of Ishpeming, where they can hike, canoe and kayak while looking for the big, elusive creatures.

“That’s where I’ve had luck seeing them,” she said.

Jason Schneider, executive director of the Marquette Chamber of Commerce, said his office has seen some interest in the shy, majestic animals.

“We do get a call or so a month from people wanting to know where to go see the moose,” Schneider said.

He usually recommends the Baraga Plains, a state wildlife management area between Marquette and Baraga, as the best place to glimpse one.

Newberry got its Moose Capital designation several years ago from the Legislature, thanks to the efforts of a local developer, said Jennifer James-Mesloh, Newberry’s village manager.

“Local businesses are embracing this (designation), making it part of their marketing plans,” James-Mesloh said.

A moose was painted on the town’s water tower and added to the village’s seal, she said. There also has been talk about painting moose tracks on the village sidewalks, she said.

The DNR does not survey the moose population in the eastern U.P.

It does conduct surveys of moose in the western U.P. in the winter every two years from fixed wing aircraft, the DNR said in its June report.

“Our survey findings this year are encouraging” after a possible population decline was detected in the 2015 survey, said Dean Beyer, a DNR wildlife research biologist who organizes the survey efforts.

But the numbers are still too low to consider allowing a moose hunt in Michigan, the DNR said.

The moose population on Isle Royale, a 45–mile-long island in Lake Superior, has grown to about 1,600, according to the most recent annual winter survey  by researchers at Michigan Technological University in Houghton.

The island’s moose population is growing while the number of wolves on Isle Royale has flatlined at just two, the Michigan Tech researchers said.

“The Isle Royale wolves are no longer serving their ecological function as the island’s apex predator—the creature at the top of the food chain. With only two wolves left on the island, the moose population has grown,” said Rolf Peterson, a research professor at Michigan Tech and co-author of the report on the winter survey.

Without wolves keeping moose numbers in check, said John Vucetich, a professor of ecology at Michigan Tech and co-author of the report, the island’s moose population could double in the next three to four years.