Global Warming, The Decline of the Moose, and “Minnesota Nice”

We have had a cool summer here in Minnesota, and this has brought out the miscreants who for their own reasons do not want to get on board with the simple, well demonstrated scientific fact that global temperatures have risen, that we humans are the primary cause, and that this climate change has negative consequences.

There are probably different reasons people do not want to get on board with this reality. The main reason especially for younger individuals is that they have been told by their political mentors to not accept global warming. The political mentors, in turn, reject global warming knowing full well that it is real. Why do they do this? Because factoring in the intention to NOT cause major climate change when making business decisions ore, more likely, when developing regulations is seen as bad for business. The Republican Party and many right wing “think” tanks are paid by industry to make sure there is always a big question mark next to the term “Global Warming,” to ensure that real policy changes that would cost those industries money are rejected or at least slowed down. So one group of people don’t accept global warming because they let other people do their thinking for them. How pathetic.

A second reason found among some of the older denialists is that they rejected the entire environmental movement decades ago when it started to emerge, because it was linked to things like hippies and eggheads, and they are simply too thick headed to admit they were mostly wrong and the environmentalists of the 1960s were mostly right.

There were once many moose in northwestern Minnesota. A couple of years ago, we drove across the Great Morass, which is a huge chunk of ancient glacial lake bed that should be perfect moose habitat. A decade or two ago, there were about 4,000 moose in the region, and a drive across the Great Morass would likely get you a sighting or two. Today, it is estimated that the population of 4,000 plus moose has decreased to about 100 moose. Needless to say, we saw no moose on our drive across the Morass. In northeastern Minnesota the moose population is also under threat, though the drop in numbers has not been as bad. Overall, the situation for Minnesota Moose is dire.

We could start an argument about whether or not global warming is the actual cause of the moose decline in these regions. But that would be stupid, and politically motivated, because we already know it is. At the end of a cold winter, you get extra moose. There are calves that are healthy and growing into adults. At the end of warm winter you get few calves, mostly not healthy, and the adults get parasites and die. The amount of moose is linked to winter temperature as plainly as the amount of snow is linked to winter temperature. Even if the most optimistic scenario regarding global warming came to be … which would require, honestly, making climate change denialism go away right now … the overall warming trend will continue for some time and it is pretty clear that the only moose left in Minnesota (and other regions of the US) will be stuffed, statues, or in petting zoos. And wither the moose also the wolves.

Every year there seems to be a certain amount of coverage of the decline of moose in Minnesota (like this, this, and this), but I’m pretty sure that if you asked Minnesotans cold about what sorts of environmental problems they see as important, the moose will not come up very often. Global warming might be mentioned, but the specific problem that this majestic species of deer is likely to become extinct in Minnesota, and that our wolf population will likely be threatened as well, is not part of of the daily conversation here.

Of all the “lower 48” states, Minnesota is the only state with an indigenous wolf population that has been here “all along.” (“All along” = “Since white people showed up.”) The reason is not because Minnesotans love their wolves and conserved them. The reason is because Minnesotans tried really hard to kill all the wolves but were stopped by those pesky environmentalists before they finished them off. Even to this day, Minnesotans are ambivalent about wolves. I’m pretty sure that a lot of Minnesotans don’t get how amazing it is that they are here. Same with the moose. Nobody really cares. The reason these animals are still here is because this is a big state, it’s really cold and swampy up north, and it is taking us forever to get around to fucking the whole thing up. But eventually ….

Minnesotans need a sense of awe for nature and shame for our destruction of it. We need a new addition to our cultural ethos, to take a place next to our hot dish fetish and our globally famous passive aggressive form of social interaction (sometimes known as “Minnesota Nice.”). We need to become more aware of our effects on the environment, and we need to put the conservation of natural resources on par with our selfish desire for motorized recreation, gunplay in the woods, and yes, even fishing. You already know that Minnesota is the state of 10,000 lakes. Actually, there are well over 20,000 lakes. And a few hundred of them are not connected to the highway system by paved roads. A few thousand of them to not receive doses of agricultural chemicals every year. A small percentage of them are not overbuilt on the shorelines and being silted in from human-caused erosion. I have yet to meet a “cabin” person in this state who gives the slightest indication that they understand that the rules and regulations of development on lake shore property is to protect the lake from the property owner. This is not to say that they don’t know that. They do know that. But thy don’t talk about it. The idea that we need to actively conserve our natural resources is not part of the conversation. Which means, unfortunately, it is not going to happen.

Minnesotans, as a rule, don’t get it. They never have. And if they don’t start getting it soon, this place is going to start looking a lot like Iowa.

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0 thoughts on “Global Warming, The Decline of the Moose, and “Minnesota Nice”

  1. I was once among the naive that thought Minnesota nice meant Minnesotans were a friendly pleasant bunch of folks. I quickly learned that Minnesota nice meant not saying anything unseemly to the fuck that lets the door try to smack you in the face or its the smile that the douchebag makes when they watch you try to catch the elevator without making any attempt to try and hold it.

  2. Wolves as you say only were in Minnesota where you didn’t manage to kill them off with bounties as we did in Wisconsin. As soon as Wisconsin’s wolf recovery plan went into effect – i.e. bounties were removed and hunting wolves prohibited, and that is it, the wolves came back by themselves with a vengeance. But that is the control on wolf population, not moose availability, not even wilderness directly. The limit on wolf population is exactly the level of population the human society will tolerate. The only reason that wolves are generally in wilderness areas isn’t that they care or even know what a wilderness area is, but because humans didn’t and don’t kill them there (on purpose or by car). Here in Wisconsin, we are seeing wolf packs using all the available habitat and now packs are starting to be in more populated areas.

    The DNR would like to remove the wolf from the threatened list and use active measures including hunts to maintain about the current population. Activists have opposed and won so far but I think they are shooting themselves in the foot as the backlash from more predation is going to be fierce, plus indemnities to farmers are hurting the DNR budget. As farmers start feeling the crunch and wolves get into suburbia, we may see bounties once again!

    Off on a tangent to the Moose, sorry.

  3. I’m not sure if your moose comments meet the correlation/causation test. I know that there are now moose in Colorado and Washington in places where they had previously been eradicated. Both of these areas are much warmer than northern Minnesota. But I don’t think that they have many wolves. They create a sensation every once and a while, by wandering far afield somewhere out of place, like crashing into someone’s house in Spokane. Perhaps, being so far away from Minnesota, they are having a hard time finding a nice marshy lake.

    When it comes to global warming, I wonder if, like some residents of Greenland or Siberia, inhabitants of places like Duluth have a hard time thinking of a little warming as a bad idea.

    The last time I visited Saskatchewan, the Provincial Government and the University there were happily doing research studies on whether or not some farmers could grow plums.

  4. The average monthly high/low temperatures for January in Lake Bronson, MN (but pick any other station in the region you like) , averaged over the period 1900-1992, were 11.7 F /-9.6 F. The monthly average high/low for 1993 – 2002, over which period the moose herd suffered a 10 fold decline, were 11.7 F/-7.1 F.

    Have you any evidence at all that average wintertime temperatures in NW Minnesota actually changed over the period you claim global warming caused the death of the moose herd? Or am I just a mean nasty person for looking at the actual, y’know, raw data?

  5. Greg your moose all moved to Utah: we have suburban moose here these days.

    On a more serious note, what is the word on the brain parasite that they are supposedly getting from whitetail deer?


  6. The parasite is bad (and that is not the only parasite they get from deer, I think). The new strategy in northeastern MN is to shoot out more deer, to compensate for the warmer winters that allow for less natural die-off, so there can be less white-tail to moose contact.

  7. The brain parasite might be the key item affecting the moose.

    Moose may not be as impacted by warm weather itself as they are by the secondary effect of having to share their habitat with an abundance of white tailed deer.

    In the west, large areas of forest in places like Montana and Colorado have recently died back due to spruce bud worm infestations. These are aggravated by warmer, drier conditions and perhaps, by second growth forests which are overcrowded. But so far, the parasite has not spread west, and if it did, the mule deer would probably be susceptible and not carriers like the white tails.

    Are similar die backs in northern Minnesota causing more forest openings and thus more white tailed deer?

    Maybe climate warming -> insect infestation -> deforestation -> more deer -> more brain parasites -> less moose

  8. Yes,it is absolutely true that the warming is affecting the moose by favoring the white tail deer, and possibly (though this is not understood yet) by enhancing some other disease related effects.

  9. Humans just have no clue without looking at a historical record (but beware of bogus history such as the “christian founders” myth that the religious liars want to push). There are a few coral reefs in the Pacific which I used to go to as a child and contemporary tourists comment about how beautiful it is – and yet those reefs are deserts compared to what they used to be. The canneries of Monterey Bay are long gone since the fishing industry decimated the region about 100 years ago. Yet how many people can you find around Monterey Bay who are aware that the area is nothing like it was a mere 120 years ago?

    The global warming politics is really infuriating. The game many big businesses are playing is to pay to “manufacture doubt”, as the managers call it, while also spending on a few projects just in case they don’t succeed and governments bring in regulations. Some corporations probably spend over 100 times more on research than on propaganda, and yet they bother with the propaganda and you have to wonder why. Of course there is no simple reason; large corporations have a diverse set of people in them; no doubt there are genuine believers in no global warming.

    Many groups are pushing on with projects and consider the denialists largely irrelevant. In fact the denialists are a minor nuisance compared with the existing regulatory hurdles which tack on a few years to the start date of any project. The regulatory requirements are not such an issue when you’ve been running a few years (you just plan many years in advance), but when CO2 regulation comes in, everyone will fall flat on their face at the starting blocks due to other regulations. Short story: even when governments do bring in more regulations, expect 5-8 years before any industry can actually implement anything worthwhile. Most of the time since the Kyoto agreement had been signed was wasted trying to work out how to plant and count trees – an utterly useless exercise when you’re tackling anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

  10. Gerard Harbison @ 10:

    Your raw data shows the low temparature for the decade 1993-2002 is 2.5 degrees warmer than the average low for the previous century (-7.1 vs -9.1)

    Which part of warmer do you not understand?

  11. Tonyc: are you familiar with the concept of statistical significance?

    The standard deviations on the averages are in each case between 7 and 8 degrees. A two degree difference is in the noise. Way, way buried in the noise.

    Here are the high/low averages by decade for the 20th century
    12.98 -10.03
    7.31 -13.79
    11.91 -10.09
    11.43 -9.04
    14.14 -7.64
    12.47 -8.49
    9.35 -10.72
    9.19 -12.44
    15.79 -5.13
    10.65 -8.4

    So why didn’t the moose die off in the 1940s or the 1980s?

  12. Gerard: We don’t know what the population was doing in the 1940s. In the 1980s, they were dying off.

    You have calculated the standard deviation to which your refer correctly. Your cherry picked data are of very little use. There is a science as to how to do this. But, as a “right wing” scientist you might have a hard time with that concept!!!

    It is good that people ask quesitons, but that is not what you are doing.

  13. Re: 23
    Since the premise of AGW is “unprecedented” warming during the 2oth century how can presenting the decadal averages for the whole of that period be called “cherry picked”?
    Also perhaps a little less ad hominen attacks would raise the tone of these discussions.

  14. The remedies I’ve heard of for AGW, de-industrialization, conservation and intermittent power seem likely to be repudiated by our grandchildren. Positive solutions are required to make a lasting difference, even climate doubters will accept change that’s more economical, for example, electronic engine control has done a lot for emissions and economy and few miss the wasteful carburetors they replaced.

  15. Calico, what would raise the level of this discussion is asking Gerard to shut up. He is an unmitigated denialist. He and his ilk have caused more environmental damage with their stonewalling than all the factories in Gary Indiana. You have not really seen the ad hominum I’m capable of when it comes to his sort. So do not give me that shit.

    Picking a single weather station to represent global warming is in the dictionary to illustrate the concept of cherry picking.

    Is this really the best you can do? …. Thought so.

  16. Greg, when you’re that shrill, you’re not doing your side any favors. Though it should go over well with those that completely agree with you.

  17. Greg:

    I see you respond to hard data by name calling.

    I’m not a denialist. However, I have actually looked at NASA/GISS and Hadley climate data and its geographical distribution. I live in Nebraska; I’ve looked at our climate data over 130 years. It’s changed far less than the global average. And Minnesota is similar.

    Here’s the GISTEMP map for the period 1990 – 2009. Minnesota falls right in the ‘no change’ zone.

    Blindly blaming any biological population fluctuation in ‘global warming’, while it’s all the rage, is not science. It’s the equivalent of ‘goddidit’.

    The moose population in the mid 80s was, as you say, 4000. It was still estimated at 3500 in 1993. It declined to 400 by 2002. The temporal correlation between climate and population decline is very poor; the decline didn’t occur in the early to mid 1980s. which had comparatively warm winters. Meanwhile, in Maine, the moose population has increased, and even northern Maine has warmer winters than NW Minnesota.

  18. Gerald @ 31: I’m not a denialist.
    Gerald @ 10: Have you any evidence at all that average wintertime temperatures in NW Minnesota actually changed over the period

    hmmm — doesn’t sound much like someone who accepts AGW.

    And yes – I do understand statistical signioficance – but your quoted data was insufficient from which to draw any reliable measures of significance (4 data points representing 100 years). The measures simply reported averages, which had changed.

    And as others have pointed out, you selected a single station which is ‘cherry picking’ through & through…. to paraphrase a common aphorism: one station is weather – many stations are climate.

    Do you accept AGW or not? a simple yes or no will suffice.

    My position is that I accept AGW based on my reading and (limited, non climateologist) understanding of the data and models. AFAIR >95% of the models and >95% of climateologists accept AGW. My knowledge is insufficient to refute their findings.

  19. TonyC:

    I’m amused by your quasi-religious demand that I ‘accept’ global warming. You aren’t a scientist, are you? Here’s the science: humankind has caused a > 100 ppm increase in atmospheric CO2. That has caused a slight direct warming of global climate, and a probably a slightly larger indirect warming, through changes in atmospheric water vapor. The changes vary dramatically depending on one’s location. They’re largest in the Arctic, and smaller towards the equator; there are also local regions, most significantly for us the eastern United States, that show smaller changes or even have actually cooled, not warmed.

    Moose are affected by local climate, not global climate. It seems a little far fetched to expect they’ve been depressed by what’s happening to the polar bears, and have gone decided not to breed. It’s not cherry picking to look at weather stations in NW Minnesota and not those, say, in Siberia, if you want to examine whether moose in NW Minnesota have been affected by climate. By all means go check out other NW Minnesota stations — all the information you need is on the net – but you’ll be disappointed. Climate, by and large, follows the same trends for stations within a hundred miles of each other.

    For heaven’s sake, look at this map: it compares the temperatures since 1990, with those from 1900 – 1989. See where Minnesota is? And it’s from NASA Goddard, James Hansen’s very own sandbox, not some climate skeptic site. (you may have to cut and paste the URL)

  20. Gerald: nice way to deflect — are you sure you’re not a denier in sheep’s clothing?

    You’ll note that I stated my layman’s credentials. What are yours? I see from your blog that you consider yourself America’s 3487th greatest conservative thinker.

    You’re amused and suggest that my question to you was quasi-religious. An interesting choice of phrase. Do you think that labelling my questions religious will cause me to lose my mind? I’m not one of the sheeple, unlike your tea-party pals!

    I don’t see much climateology in your blog to substantiate your feeling of superiority over a mere layman like myself. Aren’t you just as much of a layman with regards to climate as me?

    I don’t see much more than politically motivated opinion. Not a lot of science – but an awful lot of ultra right wing talking points, and libertarian kookiness.

    So, if you don’t mind, I’ll refrain from continuing this conversation. From my reading of your blog, your purpose in life is simply to put your ultra right wing libertarian slant on everything.

  21. Gerard:

    Way to tell someone else they are not scientific and then heap unscientific crap on us…

    You speak of the climate regions of the earth as though it was a big apple with hot and cold spots. The climate system is dynamic and complex, which is why cherry picking is especially egregious.

    Your strange straw man regarding moose states of psychological depression regarding polar bears is absurd.

    I encrouage everyone to look at the map tyou pointed to, which shows changes over the last ten years in surface temperature from a baseline, indicating widespread warming.: Is your point, Gerard, that Minnesota is mostly in a part of the map that has little change?

  22. Gerard — I don’t think comparing winter temperatures in other locations that might have moose is at all helpful. A species is not a monolithic block. Populations in one area are going to be well adapted to that area, and changes in that location are likely to have impacts on that population. The fact that moose live in other areas with warmer temperatures tells us nothing about what moose in NW Minnesota are adapted to, and will respond to.

    Also, if you’re going to post a list of numbers representing a time series, could you at least include the times? From looking at your list, I could only tell which direction they were listed in by assuming that they do indeed show warming temperatures.

  23. I actually appreciate Gerard The Denialists comments. It has prompted me to go back to the data, and I’m writing a post about it. (Not about Gerard …. about climate change in relation to Minnesota)

  24. Greg:

    You really should get a sense of humor.

    ‘The climate system is dynamic and complex’ is handwaving. Some places have changed far more than others as a result of anthropogenic global warming. The species that live in any area respond to local change.

    My point, Greg, is that while the climate is indeed changing, the change is not uniform, and in general, the eastern and (to a lesser extent) the central United States have experienced less warming than most of the earth’s surface. That’s what the map shows; the temperatures in the east and midwest are not on average higher than the average of the the first 90 years of the 20th century — in contrast, say, to the Arctic and Antarctic, Given that, I wouldn’t jump to attribute changes in local species distributions to global warming, when there are hosts of other possible explanations.

    psweet. I posted ten pairs of numbers, by decade, for the 20th century. I suppose I could perversely have posted them out of sequence, but I didn’t. the first set is 1900-1910, the second 1910-1920, etc.. In fact, the moose in NW MN, according to my former colleague Hugh Genoways, dispersed from NE Minnesota after their original extirpation. Numbers in most of North Dakota and in NE Minnesota — evolutionarily, the same population — are stable. (Alces, 42, 115-131, 2006). The NW Minnesota decrease seems to be a local phenomenon, extending only into extreme NE North Dakota.

    TonyC. My research interests include, inter alia, the gas phase infrared spectroscopy of molecules. I suppose that gives me some sort of expertise. And please continue to label anything you disagree with ‘kooky’. It will save you having to think about it.

  25. Gerard: From what you say here, one might make the hypothesis (that you could then falsify) that there was not a temperature increase in NE minnesota but there was on in NW minnesota (that corresponds with the moose dieoff in that region). If you are right, that would not be the case.

    I wonder what the data show…..

  26. Greg:

    I don’t accept that there is any evidence temperature is the primary driver of the decline. Period. From what I’ve read, people were blaming disease and other factors until 1998, when they started climbing on the AGW bandwagon. I’ve seen nothing in the way of hard evidence, other than it’s currently trendy to blame any population change on AGW.

  27. Oh my!
    From where I’m sitting, Gerard has been provacative, but eminently reasonable in his factual claims. Interesting how strong the reactions have been…

    And Greg, if you can actually present a defensible story about a causal link between warmer temperatures in northern Minnesota and the decline of the local moose population, you have a professional obligation to share that story with your scientific kin.

  28. Bob: Nice snark! Anyway, yes, my professional kin are working on it. There will never be definitive connections between basic forcing or causal variables like global temperatures and the die-off of a large mammal. Anyone who asks for that as the standard is being ingenuous. This is similar to the whole “you can’t prove evolution in a court of law” bit. However, there is a very interesting story to be told.

    Gerard is not being provocative. He’s being dishonest. Big difference.

    Gerard: I totally get that you don’t see it.

  29. Well, evolution hasn’t been _proved_ in a court of law, but it’s been shown to be the only _reasonable_ game in town, by courtly standards of reasonableness. I’m curious how you envision establishing (beyond a reasonable doubt) that global change is more salient than relative local stability.

  30. There will never be definitive connections between basic forcing or causal variables like global temperatures and the die-off of a large mammal. Anyone who asks for that as the standard is being ingenuous.

    I think you mean disingenuous, but if not, thanks very much for the nice compliment.

    But in fact, it is you who are being disingenuous. I’m not asking for a full proof of a causal connection. I’m asking for a specific local effect in NW Minnesota that might have been the proximate cause of moose decline. Local temperature does not appear to be it. Once you have that, maybe we can connect the proximate cause with atmospheric CO2.

  31. Greg – I think it’s clear that by ‘relative local stability’ I was referring to the relatively small warming in northern Minnesota compared to what’s happened in still more northerly regions. It’s not necessary to distinguish this relative stability from global warming effects, since it’s perfectly compatible with those effects. (I suppose that as a matter of truth in advertising, I should state that I think the global average temperature is of little scientific interest, in contrast to regional temperature changes.)

    You say that we “already know” global warming is the cause of the moose decline. I’d like to know _how_ we know this. FWIW, I’m not trying to start an argument, and though I’m certainly ignorant on this point, that doesn’t mean I’m either stupid or politically motivated.

  32. What I was hoping to get from my question to you was how to distinguish between “local” and “global” .. but if, as you say, the concept of “relative local stability” is the same as, or compatable with, and I assume indistinguishable form, global change, then it’s not really a new thing.

    Certainly local effects are very very important. Climate change people have understood that for some time. A classic paper on this is a study (actually a series of papers, I think) by Nannan Noe-Nygaard on Scandinavian lakes.

    She studied a set of nearby lakes and showed that some of them went up in lake level while others went down. The cause of the change in all cases was the same: A cooling or warming (can’t remember which) as the globe went into or out of an ice age. But the effects were mediated through different processes involving ground water, catchment characteristics, and sea level rise change.

    Regarding: “I’d like to know _how_ we know this.” … Right. Read the post! Then read part II.

    We don’t “know” anything regarding the link between climate change and moose, any more than you “know” that when you try to unlock the car you think you left in the parking lot earlier that you are really unlocking your car, or that when we see a “green” traffic light that we are not seeing some trick of the sun and shade making a red light look green.

    But at some point one makes a decision to accept certain things as facts, certain processes as important, certain relationships as real, because one has to.

    The people who work on moose in Minnesota think global warming is negatively affecting their survivorship. The exact mechanisms are in some cases quite clear, in other cases not so clear, and the relative importance of the mechanisms is not yet understood. But the temperature change is there, the mechanisms are not unkown, and there are all these dead moose.

    global average temperature is of little scientific interest, in contrast to regional temperature changes

    The average climate scientist thinks that regional temperature changes and other factors are very important. But global processes, including heat redistribution, drive the whole system. The pothole caused by the frost heave is important when you are driving through it on the highway and wearing out your suspension. But the winter temperatures that ultimately caused the pothole are fundamental to the fact that you are driving through the pothole. It might ALSO be important that they put down the wrong kind of pavement, or that there was an irregularity in the substrate, etc. But without the cold there would be no frost, without the frost, no frost heave, without the frost heave we would not be having this conversation. About the hypothetical pothole.

  33. Can anyone remind me when we’re supposed to start calling global warming, ‘climate change?’
    (I lost the memo)


  34. Phil: That’s a funny thing for me. For the longest time, even before Al Gore, I studied “climate change” (in the Pleistocene and stuff) and what we now call “Global Warming” was, to me, “The Greenhouse Effect.”

    Later, “Climate Change” got introduced as the politically “neutral” (read “right wing preferred”) term. So when I say “Climate Change” I mean it differently than perhaps some others do.

  35. Still spewing that GW BS. 44,000 real scientist versus a handful of Al Gore bought shills who keep promulgating the AGW fallacy. It’s all about the money and I believe you are just another rube trying to get in on the scam.

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