Moose Seek Food More Than Shelter
New research calls into question previous conclusions that moose in the Rocky Mountains need large areas of mature, closed-canopy coniferous forest to survive snowy winters. Female moose tracked in southeast BC’s mountains during winter gravitate more towards food than cover. They spend 42% of their time browsing in open, shrubby habitat compared with 22% of the day seeking shelter in thick-canopied forests, despite the forests being more widespread.
The main factor delineating moose winter range on the landscape, however, is elevation. Deep snows in the mountains motivate moose to move towards valley bottoms. In the relatively snowy Spillimacheen valley, moose stay lower, at around 1125 m, whereas in the drier Upper Elk and Flathead Valleys they remain near 1400 and 1580 m. Gentle slopes and good sun exposure also characterize late winter ranges.
Within their winter range, the cow moose favour forests logged 10 to 40 years ago, as well as open and riparian areas. They mainly take shelter during afternoons in denser stands. As winter progresses and snow accumulates, they do not use cover more often, except to a minor extent one March when snow was 30% deeper than normal.
Kim G. Poole and Kari Stuart-Smith. 2006. Winter habitat selection by female moose in western interior montane forests. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 84(12): 1823-1832.