Minnesota Moose Habitat Collaborative
$960,000 in the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association to restore and enhance public forest lands in northeastern Minnesota for moose habitat purposes. A list of proposed restorations and enhancements must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Enhanced 2,049 acres of forest
The Minnesota Moose Collaborative (Collaborative) has implemented a variety of habitat enhancement treatments across the core of moose range in Northeast Minnesota on County, State, Federal, and Tribal lands since 2013. Moose browse has been improved through treatments that regenerate preferred brush and tree species. The Collaborative has also planted over two million trees including white spruce, white pine, jack pine, and white cedar.
Improving moose browse calls for treatments that regenerate preferred brush and tree species. In some places, this happens naturally. The area burned by the 2011 Pagami Creek fire is an example of this and is providing some excellent moose browse according to biologists. Most logging on uplands results in some regeneration of moose browse. However, there are tens of thousands of acres in moose range that will not see a natural browse regenerating event like fire or do not have enough volume of merchantable wood to make an economical timber sale. In these areas, the Collaborative used bulldozers, brush saw crews, and prescribed fires to shear, cut, and burn the old decadent brush and stimulate re-growth that is more palatable, nutritious, and easy to reach for moose.Cover for hiding from predators and protection from the elements is another part of the habitat equation. Research has shown that moose prefer forests with mixed conifer and deciduous trees. The pre-settlement forest in Northeast Minnesota was 70% conifers and 30% deciduous trees. Today that ratio is completely reversed with 70% deciduous and only 30% conifers. Improving cover habitat for moose means restoring conifers on the landscape. The Collaborative has planted over two million trees including white spruce, white pine, jack pine, and white cedar. The pine and cedar must be protected from browsing by deer and hare using budcaps or tree shelters. By the third year after planting, the seedlings need to be released from competition from surrounding trees and brush. This “release” is completed with brush saws which both helps the trees get established and produces another flush of future moose browse.A look at plat books for counties in Northeast Minnesota emphasizes the need for inter-agency partnerships to produce habitat results at a meaningful scale. The ownership pattern looks like a patchwork quilt of County, Federal, and State lands (private as well, but funds for this project are limited to public lands). There was not an acre that was worked on without some level of collaboration and cooperation between partner staff. The first cut at site selection was made by looking at forest inventory data and local knowledge of potential project areas. With time and experience, Collaborative partners have refined the search for good moose habitat projects and added and dropped stands as field visits were conducted. Proposals for specific work plans at each site were shared with wildlife biologists for their approval as beneficial to moose. Partners decided who would manage the bidding and contracting, order necessary supplies, supervise the work, complete the documentation needed for invoicing, track the specifics of what was done at each site, and summarize accomplishments for grant reporting and other communication about the project as a whole. As the grant recipient, MDHA is ultimately responsible for the finances and reporting to the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. But, the work it takes to produce results involves many of the partnering agencies.The variety of combinations of roles and responsibilities between staff from MDHA, the Superior National Forest, Lake County Forestry, DNR, The Nature Conservancy, and the 1854 Treaty Authority that played out in completing the work was impressive. For example, Lake County Forestry may identify a potential project on lands they manage, a Forest Service biologist may review and approve it as a good moose project, the 1854 Treaty Authority might collect pre-treatment data that is being used to track effectiveness, The Nature Conservancy may order the trees and line up the planting crew, Lake County supervises the work, The Nature Conservancy again handles the documentation and site-specific data and finally MDHA pays the contractor’s invoice and then requests reimbursement in the form of State managed grant funds.Early sampling and aerial surveys conducted by the 1854 Treaty Authority, U of M’s Natural Resources Research Institute, and other agency and tribal biologists are showing that moose are preferentially using the sites that were treated.