Minnesota scales back moose huntMinnesota will scale back its moose hunting season again this fall as the state’s beleaguered moose population continues a downward trend.
By: Forum Newspapers, Lake County News Chronicle
Minnesota will scale back its moose hunting season again this fall as the state’s beleaguered moose population continues a downward trend.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced Tuesday that it will offer 87 moose hunting licenses in a lottery this year. That’s down from 105 licenses issued last year and a 59 percent drop from the 213 licenses issued in 2010.
DNR officials said they expect the 87 parties of up to four hunters each to shoot about 50 moose in Northeastern Minnesota. The declining population can handle that harvest, they said.
Erik Thorson, acting DNR big game program leader, said the decline has reached a point where the DNR is looking closely each year at whether to have a season or not. So far, it hasn’t dropped to the level of closing the season altogether.
The moose advisory committee “envisioned a time when hunting would become an issue. That time has come,” Thorson said. “We’re implementing a reasoned and responsible plan.”
In addition to reducing licenses, the DNR has closed two moose hunting zones, No. 23 in central Lake County and No. 34 in northwestern St. Louis County, because hunter success — and probably the moose populations — have dropped below acceptable levels.
Moose experts say the limited, bulls-only hunt won’t affect the overall population. But they say the season could be closed in future years if there is a continued decline in moose numbers — especially the bull-to-cow ratio — or in hunter success to below 30 percent overall.
“Even though hunting is not causing the decline, it makes sense to reduce hunting pressure in an orderly manner if the population continues to decline,” said Rolf Peterson, moose researcher at Michigan Technological University and a member of the Minnesota DNR’s moose advisory committee.
Hunters who are eligible can apply for the 87 licenses starting April 2 and before May 4. A lottery will be held in the summer. The season will run from Sept. 29 to Oct. 14.
Ojibwe tribal hunters also are expected to shoot several moose this fall, although, like state hunters, tribal harvest has been reduced in recent years. In 2011 tribal hunters shot 34 moose while state-licensed hunters shot 53.
This winter’s aerial survey found moose numbers down nearly 14 percent from 2011, continuing a trend in decreasing population that began in 2005.
If that downward trend doesn’t slow, moose could be essentially gone from Minnesota within a decade or two, a group of scientists said last summer.
Researchers say the trend to higher winter and summer temperatures may be escalating disease, parasites and stress among moose, although they still don’t know why the animals are declining so fast.
“I would love to be wrong,” said Mark Lenarz, leader of the DNR’s Forest Wildlife and Populations Research Group, told the News Tribune earlier this year. “But the more information we gather, the more analyses we do, it all indicates the population will continue to decline. … If (mortality) is tied to climate change, the temperatures are going to be increasing over the long term. It’s a matter of whether it’s 20, 30 or 40 years, but the population is not going to come back and be stable.”
The winter survey indicated the moose population dropped from about 4,900 animals in 2011 to about 4,230 this year. The population was estimated at about 8,000 in 2005 and biologists have called it “very disturbing” that the population has been cut in half in just eight years.
There were some positive signs in this winter’s survey — a slight increase in the number of calves and a higher ratio of bulls to cows, which biologists say is critical if the population is ever to rebound.
Several studies are under way to determine why Minnesota’s moose are perishing at a much higher rate than moose in other areas. Of 150 adult moose radio-collared since 2002 in Minnesota, 119 subsequently died, most from unknown causes thought to be diseases or parasites. Eleven deaths were clearly the result of wolf predation, according to the DNR. Ten moose died as a result of highway vehicle accidents. Two were killed by trains.
Warm weather itself doesn’t kill moose, researchers note. But research on cattle, large animals that are ruminants like moose, shows they tend to stop feeding when temperatures get too high in the summer or winter. That means they store fewer fat reserves, and dairy cattle produce less milk. The temperature stress can lead to impaired immune systems, which makes the animals more vulnerable to disease and parasites.
The decline of Northeastern Minnesota moose parallels what happened to moose in northwestern Minnesota over the past three decades. There, moose numbered more than 4,000 in 1981 and crashed to fewer than 100 moose today.