By Tom Irvine
Seldom are there conversations at Isle Royale National Park or Grand Portage National Monument that don’t begin or end with a moose sighting story. Northwestern Lake Superior is synonymous with an abundant moose population. With that as a backdrop it was an honor to be asked to join the steering committee for the 55th Annual North American Moose Conference in Grand Portage, MN May 22-26. It was also wonderful for NPLSF to be a proud sponsor of the event, which was packed with more than 150 wildlife biologists, natural resource specialists, tribal, state, federal and provincial agency managers from the U.S., Canada and beyond.
The conference returned to Grand Portage nearly 25 years since it last hosted the conference. The Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, a federally recognized Native American Ojibwe tribe, hosted the conference. The Grand Portage Reservation covers 75 square miles of rugged terrain on the shores of Lake Superior. Moose research by tribal biologists began in 2008. Native American Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota proudly exercise their rights to food sovereignty through subsistence hunting and fishing.
For those that don’t know, moose have always been an important part of the traditional diet and culture of the Anishinaabeg people. They are also an integral part of the regional ecosystem, serving as a keystone species that helps maintain the health and balance of the environment. Moose grazing habits help keep forests healthy and provide food for apex predators like bear and wolves. Their presence is literally an indicator of a healthy forest ecosystem. Protecting moose and their habitats is vital to preserving the area’s natural heritage and cultural traditions.
Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Treasurer/Secretary April McCormick offered opening remarks at the conference, welcoming attendees with the context that the Grand Portage band is a tribe “with a lot of firsts” in terms of ordinances and regulations that protect the land’s natural resources, including air quality, water quality, and forest management.
McCormick discussed the importance of treaty rights in several contexts, including elevating the recent Memorandum of Understanding between the Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, and Grand Portage Bands with the U.S. Forest Service to truly co-manage the forest lands within the 1854 ceded area. Secretary McCormick summarized her remarks at the conference and other shared other insights with North Shore Public Radio’s Joe Friedrichs.
Throughout the conference, ongoing challenges to moose populations were front and center. Moose are dying for many reasons include several linked to climate change. Tickborne illnesses have increased due to warmer winters that are allowing ticks to survive and parasitic brain worms are now in the area due to changing white-tailed deer habitat. Increased wolf and bear predation is also killing moose calves before they can reproduce.
Moose collaring supported by NPLSF is helping identify population changes and shifting grazing habits. I was able to tag along with a skilled handler from Find It Detection Dogs to see one of their dogs in action. This is part of a three-year study at Grand Portage Reservation to detect and determine mortality causation for moose on reservation lands.
While the North American Moose Conference has been meeting for over half a century, this was my first conference, and I could tell it was the start of something new: a concerted effort to improve the state of moose science and restoration with a strong indigenous focus. NPLSF will continue to share updates on moose and the work to ensure the species health now and far into the future.
About the NPLSF The National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation (NPLSF) exists to provide financial support for projects and programs that preserve the natural resources and cultural heritage of the five Lake Superior national parks: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Grand Portage National Monument, Isle Royale National Park, Keweenaw National Historical Park, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Funded through grants and private donations, NPLSF projects and programs ensure that these great parks and historic sites are maintained for the enjoyment of all current and future visitors.