Iron County remains popular place for moose
July 23, 2020
By RICHARD JENKINS
MERCER, Wis. — Many of those who live in, or visit, Iron County agree it’s a great place. That popularity seems to extend to the animal kingdom, as the county once again claimed the state’s top spot for moose sightings in 2019.
Eight of the 36 probable or confirmed moose sightings in Wisconsin last year were in Iron County, according to data from the Department of Natural Resources. Three of those sightings were in Mercer, two were listed as in Hurley, two were from Springstead and one came from Oma.
Although not included in the 2019 numbers, one of the more exciting recent sightings took place in Mercer last month when two bicyclists were chased by a cow moose who had been briefly separated from her calf.
It may be hard to determine whether the moose sightings were animals traveling through the area. It appears Iron County has at least some moose living within its boundaries.
“I tend to believe we do have a local population of moose,” said Jenna Malinowski, a DNR wildlife biologist. “They tend to do really well in populations where the deer are somewhere between eight to 10 deer per square mile — maybe up to 11 and 12 — so we have that up here in Iron County, especially in the really boggy areas where deer usually don’t consider it their habitat.”
Oneida, Burnett, Vilas, Price, Sawyer, Bayfield, Ashland, Lincoln and Forest counties, all in the northern half of the state, also had sightings last year.
Last year is the fourth year in a row Iron County has had the most moose sightings, if counting a tie for first in 2017. Going back even farther, Iron County has long been a source of moose sightings.
“Iron County is actually the leader in moose observations from 2001 to 2013 as well,” Malinowski said. “There’s only, I think, one or two years in between there we weren’t No. 1 or tied for No. 1.”
Although there has never been a documented moose attack in Wisconsin or Michigan, the animals should viewed at a distance — as the two cyclists in Mercer recently found out.
Malinowski wrote in a recent news release that the incident took place in mid-June on a town road outside of Mercer.
According to the release, a woman and her daughter were riding their bicycles when they encountered a cow moose with a calf roughly 100 feet in front of them.
The sound of two approaching cars caused the cow to duck into the woods on the opposite side of the road from the calf, according to the release, and it stared at the two cyclists after returning to the road once the cars had passed.
“The cow slowly began walking toward them and then took off in a trot,” the release reads.
It continued to chase the two as they cycled away but stopped after they turned a corner and were out of sight.
Malinowski speculated the cow was provoked by being separated from her calf and the two cyclists were the first thing she saw coming out of the woods and that their decision to not approach closer may have saved their lives.
She encouraged people to avoid approaching moose for their own safety.
“Be aware that attacks mostly occur in the spring when cows have calves and in the fall when bulls are in rut. You should always keep your distance and run if charged. Hide behind a tree or other strong structure if the moose gets too close,” she wrote. “If knocked down, curl up in a ball and protect your head and vital organs. Wait on the ground until the moose is a safe distance away before getting up and fleeing the scene.”
As the DNR relies on its public observation reporting system, rather than actively monitoring the state’s moose population, Malinowski said it can be hard to gauge trends in the herd’s population.
However, there has clearly been some growth as moose weren’t considered to be present in the state in the 1960s, according to Malinowski. She said the state began its formal reporting system in the early ‘90s.
“Since then, we’ve seen an increase in observations,” Malinowski said. “We’ve had over 800 (observations) since ‘91.”
Although this seems to indicate the population is growing, Malinowski warned there could be other factors that contributed to the rise in reports — including a growing interest in moose, an increased awareness of the reporting system and just more interactions with them.
She said there usually seems to be five to seven individual moose each year in Iron County.
“Most of them are males. The males will tend to travel from the U.P. down into Wisconsin,” Malinowski said, explaining there has been a growing moose population in several Upper Peninsula counties due to reintroduction efforts there in the 1930s and 1980s.
“I believe that a lot of these transient moose we see are probably from that (U.P.) population,” she said.
Malinowski said anyone who sees a moose and is interested in reporting the observation can either call their local wildlife biologist or go to dnr.wi.gov and type in the keywords “large mammal observation” to enter the information.
“We’re always looking for pictures. So if people remember to try and snap a picture, that’s always helpful,” Malinowski said. “We can kind of get an idea of how these moose are moving and how many are in the county because of their antler development.”
She said information on the size of the animal, the shape of its snout, if it has a beard, its color and any antler development is always helpful; and the location of the sighting is a must.