When driving through the Columbia Valley we often see road signs warning us of moose sightings ahead, but the chance of spotting one is not as likely as seeing deer who love to brave the highway.
This impressive species and largest member of the deer family is always a big win when seen or hunted. While moose are normally known for being abundant, for reasons unknown, over the last decade there has been a significant decline in their population in the central interior region of British Columbia. Studies show that the population of moose in this region have declined by approximately 27,500 since 2011. B.C. is home to three subspecies of moose: the Northwestern, the Alaskan, and the Shiras, which is the species we are most likely to see in our Columbia River Basin.
An adult male moose, called a bull, averages a height of 1.8 metres (m) and can weigh up to about 726 kilograms (kg). The largest one on record was shot in western Yukon over a century ago in 1897 and weighed 821 kg and was 2.3 m tall at the shoulder. Female moose, called cows, can be as short as 1.5 m and weigh on average 363 - 408 kg. Moose are herbivores and while they don’t have any prey, they are prey themselves. Aside from humans, their top three predators are bears, wolves, and sometimes wolverines. Past studies show that the number of moose that once roamed around the Spillimacheen drainage and surrounding watersheds have dropped even though suitable habitat seems to be available. Data has also shown a decline in harvest and hunter success over the last twenty years. An ingrowth of vital habitat increasing wolf population is believed to have played a factor.
Forested areas near water are the perfect place for moose to call home. Their diet includes large amounts of leaves, twigs, buds, and aquatic vegetation. Moose, on average, will eat 25 to 30 kg of forage a day during the summer months. Come winter, moose will eat 15 to 25 kg green weight of twigs each day. Moose winter habit examiners have found out that a good way to improve winter forage for these beautiful creatures is by enhancing the growth of preferred browse species such as saskatoon, dogwood, and willow. The dense stands that are found mainly along wetlands and rivers such as the Columbia are vital for moose survival in the winter.
In a rut:
While many species find love in the blooms of spring and summer, moose find their flights of fancy in the fall. Their mating season is called rutting and typically begins every year in late August or early September. Lust is in the air. When a bull is looking to attract a cow, they will dig holes in the ground and urinate in them. Bulls make a whining sound and compete with other males for a cow’s attention. The loud sound released when the bulls’ antlers clash in a fight impresses their female counterparts. Most cows will birth their first calves by the time they are two or three years old. If they are in poor physical condition this may be delayed until they are four. Cows will normally give birth to one calf, but sometimes twins are born. Calving happens around late May.
Have you herd?
Despite the plural word for goose – geese – moose are not called meese. A group of moose is called a herd and their vocalizations can be heard from miles away. Some fun facts about moose: They are powerful swimmers and can live up to 20 years. Bulls shed their antlers yearly. Much like salmon, moose have always been an important food source for Indigenous people. For generations their hide has been used for ceremonial purposes and for the creation of many beautiful things such as jackets, moccasins, gloves, and ropes. For the last 11 years, since the inception of the Moose Hide Campaign, a small square of moose hide has been worn across nations to honour women and children who have endured violence. In some Indigenous traditions such as Ojibwe and Cree, moose are looked at as a symbol of endurance and survival, while in others, a moose’s spirit represents being full of knowledge and wisdom.
Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer