Grand Rapids, Minn. — Moose hunters in the northeastern part of the state possess the fewest number of permits ever given out for the hunt, which kicks off Saturday.
The DNR gave out 76 licenses this year, which was down from 105 last year. Between 2002 and 2010, the number of available licenses was never below 200.
The decline in licenses follows the decline in the northeastern moose herd’s population; this year’s estimate was 4,230 animals, down 700 from the previous year and less than half of the estimate in 2006.
“All of us that have been following our moose population in northeastern Minnesota are aware of the decline in their numbers,” said Jeff Lightfoot, DNR regional wildlife manager in Grand Rapids. “Whether that’s going to continue or not – the optimistic side says something is going to change and the population is going to turn around.”
On the other hand, the long-term decline in moose numbers is similar to what occurred in the northwestern part of the state, where thousands of moose used to roam. That population now has only a handful of animals.
However, there were a couple positive signs in this year’s moose population survey for the northeast. There were more calves per cow than during the previous three surveys; the percent of cows with twins – 6 percent – was the highest since 2005; and the bull-to-cow ratio – just more than one bull per cow – was the highest it’s been since 2006.
Due in part to those factors, “I would like to think we’re going to see the success rate come up again,” Lightfoot said.
Hunter success, indeed, has climbed in recent years. Last year, 58 percent of the 92 hunting parties killed a moose. In 2010, the success rate was 51 percent. Success in both years is better than 2007 through 2009, when the success rate ranged from 45 percent to 50 percent.
But recent years’ success rates are well below those of the past. From 1993 to 2002, for example, the success rate dropped below 70 percent only once – in 1998, when it was 69 percent. And in each year from 1993 to 1995, it was above 80 percent.
Lightfoot figures there are three reasons for the decline: There are fewer animals in the woods; the hunt is now bulls-only; and few of the hunters ever have hunted moose before.
Still, Lightfoot expects hunters to have a good season, and figures they’ll take 44 or 45 animals.
As part of an effort to better understand what ails moose in the northeast, the DNR again will collect samples from hunter-harvested animals. Such screening has occurred since 2007, said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager.
“We’re getting a lot of information from our moose hunters,” he said.
In addition to the moose state hunters kill, DNR disease experts also collected samples from moose that tribal members killed when their season began last weekend.
All in all, hunters have been cooperative, said Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program supervisor.
“We get (samples) from more than 90 percent of the hunter-harvested moose,” she said.
Among other things, officials collect blood samples to screen for a variety of diseases; brains to check for brain worm; and livers to check for liver flukes.
The idea is to use hunter-harvested animals to establish a baseline of what apparently healthy animals in the northeast look like.
In addition, the DNR also is collecting information from sick and road-killed moose. Last week alone, agency staffers picked up six such moose for testing, including one that was struck by a vehicle near Fergus Falls.