ST. PAUL — Minnesota canceled the state's 2013 and future moose hunting seasons Wednesday, citing a "precipitous" decline in the moose population.
Department of Natural Resources officials said in a news release that their annual aerial survey to estimate Minnesota's moose population was "extremely disappointing." The survey conducted last month pegged the population at 2,760 animals, down from 4,230 last winter. Minnesota's moose numbers were estimated as high as 8,840 in 2006.
Commissioner Tom Landwehr and other DNR officials called a news conference for Wednesday to discuss the details.
"The state's moose population has been in decline for years but never at the precipitous rate documented this winter," Landwehr said in the statement. "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."
Researchers are conducting studies try to get a better understanding of the reasons why moose are dying out in Minnesota. Scientists suspect some combination of higher temperatures, parasites, disease, a large deer population and changes in forest vegetation in northeastern Minnesota may be to blame.
While Landwehr reiterated the view of some scientists that Minnesota's small, bulls-only hunt has not been a factor, he said it was prudent to suspend the hunt in light of the new data and the animals' uncertain future.
The DNR late last month launched a $1.2 million multi-year effort to capture and put tracking collars on 100 adult moose and 50 calves, and implant instruments in the digestive tracts of 27 of those adult moose to let researchers know when one dies. The researchers hope to be able to get to those carcasses within 24 hours, before wolves and other scavengers make it impossible to determine the cause of death.
Three state senators introduced a bill Tuesday to impose a temporary moratorium on the moose season. The owner of an outfitting service at the end of the Gunflint Trail, in Minnesota's prime moose country, started an online petition drive last month to stop the hunt.