The mystery of the disappearing Minnesota moose continues with the cancellation of future moose hunts.
Following a drop in the state's moose population from last year to this year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will not open a state moose hunting season next fall. Unless the population recovers, the DNR will not consider opening future seasons.
For years, the state's moose population has been declining at an alarming rate. In 2007, the season became a bull-only hunt out of concern for the decreasing population. By last December, the state added the moose to its endangered species list as a "species of concern."
In the past season, the northeast population of moose has fallen a whopping 35 percent. "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," said Tom Landwehr, commissioner of the DNR.
While the population has steadily decreased each year, biologists have yet to learn what is causing the death of Minnesota's moose.
Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager for the DNR, stressed that the state's hunt is not at fault for the descent in numbers.
"I think we've been experiencing this decline for some time. Our hunting strategy is very limited."
Last fall, the state assigned only 87 permits for hunting moose with just 45 bulls taken. Since the DNR has had a limited season to begin with, hunting has not had a detrimental effect on the population.
Some researchers suggest that climate change is a factor. This past season, Minnesota has had a very mild winter, which is unfavorable for the cold-weather equipped moose. Disease, parasites, and predation can also lead to the loss of the Minnesotan species.
"There's a fair bit of uncertainty," Cornicelli added.
At the forefront of rectifying the moose deterioration is the DNR wildlife research project that Cornicelli manages. Using the latest technology, the $1.2 million initiative is a mortality study with a goal of collaring 100 moose. Once completed, DNR researchers hope to discover the cause of the moose dying at unusually high rates.
Despite the department's efforts, there are a number of Minnesotans that worry the DNR's research project and postponement of the moose hunt are long overdue. Calling off the hunting season appears as the inevitable response to such a drastic dwindling of Minnesota's moose.
"We've had people ask, 'How come we haven't closed the season sooner?' The hunt doesn't affect the decline," according to Cornicelli.
"We didn't expect the 35 percent drop. The 35 percent decline was the deciding factor."