Minnesota’s moose hunting season is history.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced today that the population of moose in Northeastern Minnesota dropped 35 percent from last year. The agency said it will not hold a season this fall “or consider opening future seasons unless the population recovers,” according to a news release today.
“The state’s moose population has been in decline for years but never at the precipitous rate documented this winter,” said Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner. “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.”
The plight of Minnesota’s moose is well-known. The population of the iconic species has declined from an estimated 8,800 in 2006 to the current estimate of 2,760 animals, according to the DNR. In December, the moose was added to the state’s endangered species list as a “species of concern.”
Some Minnesota residents had called for an end to moose hunting because they don’t believe that it’s right to hunt the species when its population is in continuous decline. DNR biologists had maintained that taking a small number of bulls from the population, about 2 percent, is not detrimental to the overall population. Over the past decade, state and tribal hunters have harvested an annual average of about 184 moose annually.
Sue Prom, who owns a canoe outfitting business with her husband, Mike, started an online petition Jan. 28 calling for an end to the moose season. She welcomed the DNR’s announcement today.
“I am extremely happy about that,” Prom said. “That is awesome. I’m happy the DNR listened to what some of the people think is best for the moose population — who feel that hunting is affecting the population.”
Rolf Peterson, a research professor at Michigan Technological University who is renowned for his study of the wolf-moose relationship on Lake Superior’s Isle Royale and chaired the DNR’s former moose advisory committee, concurred with the DNR’s decision.
“The DNR’s decision to suspend hunting makes sense given the disturbing and abrupt decline in moose numbers,” Peterson said in a statement. “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.”
Minnesota’s modern moose hunting season began in 1971. Seasons were held in both the northwestern part of the state and in the northeast. The northwest population declined precipitously in the 1990s, and that season was closed in 1997. Hunting continued in the northeast. Out of concern for the declining population, the Northeastern Minnesota hunt became a bulls-only hunt in 2007. The DNR has reduced the number of permits available for the hunt in recent years. Last year, 45 bulls were taken by state-licensed hunters.
Completed in 2011, the DNR’s moose management and research plan established biological and management thresholds for closing the season.
While those thresholds have not been met, DNR managers did not anticipate such a precipitous decline in the overall moose population when the thresholds were established.
“It’s now prudent to control every source of mortality we can as we seek to understand causes of population decline,’’ Landwehr said in a statement announcing the decision.
To help solve why moose are rapidly dying, the DNR is leading the largest and most high-tech multi-partner moose research effort ever initiated.
Starting in January, wildlife researchers began fitting 100 moose in northeastern Minnesota with GPS tracking and data collection collars. This multi-year research project will investigate the causes of adult moose mortality, calf mortality, calf survival, moose use of existing habitat and habitat quality. To date, 92 collars have been placed on moose in the Grand Marais, Ely and Two Harbors areas.