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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on local landscape and natural history of Pend Oreille County, Washington. A partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department has allowed us to expand this program through EPA funding to include more classes, a newsletter and this website.

Twig-Eaters

by Steve Zender and Dana Base, Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

Perhaps surprisingly, moose were not documented within Washington State until the 20th Century. The first record was of a bull moose taken by a hunter in 1929 in Ferry County. Moose were not recorded again until 1954 when Washington Department of Game biologists found a shed antler in the area of Sema Meadows in Pend Oreille County. The next year, 1955, a winter-killed calf was discovered near the head of Kalispell Creek, also in eastern Pend Oreille County. In 1971 the department of Game commissioned Richard Poelker to investigate the status of moose within Washington. Poelker estimated a population of approximately 60 moose within the state as of the early 1970’s. Anyone who visits or lives in northeastern Washington or northern Idaho knows the rest of the story, there has been dramatic
continued moose population growth both in numbers and occupied range.

So, why the moose invasion, and why now? A likely scenario is the fact there has been a world-wide expansion of moose range over the last century. With European settlement came logging, and in many cases more fire, which generally removed much of the larger dominant trees and left an environment where shrubs thrived. These early successional forests provide the primary forage: “Twigs.” Willow shrubs are likely the preferred forage for moose but snowbrush, red-stem ceanothus, serviceberry, Rocky Mountain maple, and false box (Pachystima) are all nutritious and utilized. As moose expanded their native range out of the Rocky Mountains through North Idaho they found the perfect shrub habitat in the Kalispell Basin, created from a 1926 fire. Of course deer and elk
winter on these shrub species too but moose have evolved to take advantage of the moister, cooler habitats that generally have too much snow for deer. Moose have long legs and necks that help them negotiate deep snow and reach high to take advantage of all that a shrub has to offer. The preferred shrubs like willow stand tall and erect, extending up through the snow so moose don’t have to paw through snow to reach them like they would have to for grass.

Shrubs also play an important role in protecting moose, especially calves, from predators. Moose, as well as deer and elk, will be less stressed and more likely to take advantage of preferred habitats like shrub-fields, ponds, and riparian areas during summer if they have dense shrubs that protect them from the view of potential predators, including humans. Also during summer, moose need to stay cool, and those tall shrubs provide cool shade.

As you enjoy the deer, elk, and moose that are so common now in the Pend Oreille country, appreciate the important relationship they have with the local shrubs. There’s really little mystery to the range expansions or the location of favored wintering areas….it’s all about shrubs.

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