Minnesota Moose population falls 35 percent; state suspends hunt

St. Paul — On the heels of an aerial survey that showed the moose population in the state’s northeastern corner has dropped by 35 percent since last year – and 52 percent since 2010 – the DNR announced today it will not hold a moose hunt unless the population recovers.

At the same time, officials stressed that the moose hunt, which is bulls-only, is not contributing to the decline.

Based on this year’s survey, the DNR estimates the northeast moose population at 2,760 animals. That’s down from 4,230 last year, and 8,840 in 2006.

Read Rob Drieslein's take on the ending of an era in Minnesota.

The DNR has undertaken an in-depth study to better understand the reasons why moose are dying in the northeast, but say closing the hunting season is the one mortality factor they can control. Hunter harvest amounts to about 2 percent of the state moose population each year.

“The state’s moose population has been in decline for years, but never at the precipitous rate documented this winter,” DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said. “This is further and definitive evidence the population is not healthy. It reaffirms the conservation community’s need to better understand why this iconic species of the north is disappearing from our state.”

In addition to state hunters, tribal hunters also kill moose each fall. Last fall, state hunters took 45 bull moose. Tribal hunters from the 1854 Treaty Authority, Fond du Lac Band, and Grand Portage band killed 36 moose (bulls and cows).
DNR officials say they aren’t sure what tribal hunting plans are for this fall.

“We are in discussions with the various bands about what their options might be for a hunt this year,” Landwehr said. “It’s really going to be up to the tribes how to proceed.”

This fall will be one of the few times in about 40 years there hasn’t been a moose hunt of some sort in the state. For years, there was a hunt in the northwestern part of the state, in addition to the northeast. But the moose in the northwest have declined dramatically, and officials estimate fewer than 100 moose of what once was a flourishing population now live in that part of the state.

In terms of the rates of decline of the populations, the northwest and northeast “are quite comparable now,” said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife populations and regulations manager.

There hasn’t been a season – or even an aerial population survey – in the northwest for years.

The DNR’s moose management plan identifies several thresholds for closing the moose season, including the bull-to-cow ratio, among others. If the agency relied solely on those thresholds, the season would remain open because they have not been met.

But in the face of the “alarming decline” in moose in the northeast, Merchant said “it’s not reasonable” to rely on those thresholds.

A bill had been introduced in the Legislature earlier this week to place a moratorium on moose hunting in the state.

Rolf Peterson, a moose researcher at Michigan Technological University and chair of the DNR’s former moose advisory committee, agreed with the DNR’s actions.

“The DNR’s decision to suspend hunting makes sense given the disturbing and abrupt decline in moose numbers,” he said. “To me, the big news is the incredibly disappointing survey results. The hunting decision is simply a logical reaction to an uncertain situation that researchers are trying to resolve.”

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