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Photo of a moose

Photo: Northern Images / Wayne Sawchuk

Moose are so tightly bound to the boreal forest that one nickname for this ecosystem is the "spruce-moose forest." The largest members of the deer family, moose are enormous animals; bulls weigh between 900 and 1200 pounds and stand about six feet high from hoof to shoulder.

Moose are what's called a fire-dependent species. They eat aquatic vegetation and various parts of deciduous trees -- leaves in summer and twigs and buds in winter. Although they do munch on balsam fir, the dominant conifers of the boreal forest are not on their diet. How is it, then, that moose do so well in the boreal forest? The answer is in the frequent wildfires that rage through the boreal. In the aftermath of a forest fire, most of the first growth that regenerates from or colonizes the blackened landscape is deciduous -- sun-loving aspens, birch, willows and other deciduous trees and shrubs. Moose begin to invade a burn a year or two after the fire to take advantage of this smorgasbord. With food available in abundance, cows frequently give birth to twins and the area's moose population will expand rapidly and remain high until conifers begin to mature and crowd out the deciduous trees.

Fire is a crucial element of boreal ecology, and many boreal plants and animals flourish in the aftermath of wildfires. Believe it or not, timber-industry advocates have tried to use this as justification for the practice of clearcutting. "It's good for the forest," they say, and argue that it mimics the way forest fires kindle natural regeneration. Industrial clearcutting causes soil degradation and erosion, lowers water quality, reduces biodiversity, and drastically alters forest habitat and wildlife behavior.

last revised 7/20/2004

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