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Moose on the move from forests to farmland

Sloughs provide shelter from the heat and fields provide good grub

A four-year University of Saskatchewan study has tracked the migration of moose from northern boreal forests to farmlands farther south.

“Thirty years ago, seeing moose in the farmland of Saskatchewan would have been very rare but over time they have expanded to these new areas,” said Ryan Brook, a wildlife biologist with the university’s department of animal and poultry science in a release. “It’s unique to see populations well established in areas with less than one per cent forest cover and dominated by crop production.”

Brook, who leads the Saskatchewan Farmland Moose Project, said the goal was to find out how moose are succeeding in what used to be considered highly unsuitable habitat. The research team used a net gun fired from a helicopter to capture 40 adult cow moose and fit them with GPS satellite collars in 2013 and 2014 to track the animals’ movements for four years.

Researchers found that the animals are taking advantage of the area’s “knob and kettle” land forms, that is, rolling hills with plentiful tree-ringed sloughs and wetlands. During the heat of the summer days — “hot” for a moose being above 14 C — the animals retreat to shade and water, coming out to feed once it cools off.

The findings published in the Journal of Wildlife Management are the first paper ever published on farmland moose.

Unfortunately for farmers, their new neighbours quickly develop a taste for their cereal and canola crops. Crop damage is becoming a concern, particularly in the south-central part of Saskatchewan.

Moose are also hazardous for drivers. The animals’ long legs and high centre of gravity create a high risk of driving the main body of the animal through the windshield. Since cows can weigh up to 360 kg and bulls up to 700 kg, collisions can be catastrophic.

Brook said that since moose have only recently started moving south, there has been little information available to guide management efforts, which makes the study vitally important.

Saskatchewan has instituted moose hunting seasons in the affected areas. When feasible, farmers can also protect their crops by fencing off sloughs and associated treed areas to deprive moose of their daytime refuges.

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