Q. I was reading about the North Dakota moose research project and the declining moose population in Minnesota. When was the last time you saw a moose in northwest Minnesota?
A. That’s a good question, and it’s been a long time—at least 10 years. As often as I travel in northwest Minnesota, that says something about the downfall of this iconic species in a part of the state where moose once were common.
I don’t remember the year, but the last moose I saw in northwest Minnesota was standing along state Highway 32 north of Thief River Falls. I was heading north one rainy night when I came about as close as I ever want to come to hitting a moose. The big animal was difficult to see because its color blended with the dark, rainy surroundings.
I’m not sure how close I came to hitting that moose, but I vividly remember being close enough to see the lighter color of its long, gangly legs as I steered into the other lane to avoid hitting the animal.
Luckily, that was an option because there was no oncoming traffic.
As recently as the late 1980s and early 1990s, I remember the stretch of state Highway 11 between Karlstad and Greenbush, Minn., being a white-knuckle area for moose encounters. Driving that stretch of highway meant being on high alert at all times.
I travel Highway 11 regularly throughout the year, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a moose along the road. Deer, yes—I still consider that stretch of highway to be “whitetail alley”—but moose? Not so much.
I was talking to a northwest Minnesota wildlife manager a couple of weeks ago, and he was excited because he’d seen a moose track a few days earlier. Not an actual moose, mind you; just the tracks of one.
It’s a sad turn of events with a variety of causes, including parasites, predators such as bears and wolves—which have been shown to take the animals, especially calves—and climate change.
By comparison, the prairies of North Dakota, especially in the northwest part of the state, have proven to be a haven for moose. A friend in Berthold, N.D., emailed me a photo this week of a moose that walked up to his living room window.
“She came to the drive-up window looking for a cup of coffee this morning,” he joked in the email. A cow moose and a calf were in the yard the same day, he wrote.
In northwest Minnesota, sadly, those kinds of encounters appear to be a thing of the past.