Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources has decided to cancel the 2013 and future moose seasons due to a steep population drop.

An aerial survey conducted by department officials showed that the current moose population is hovering at around 2,760 specimens, a sharp fall from the 4,230 logged last year. This 35% decrease in just one year is especially worrying to conservationists. Researchers say the decline in moose can be attributed to parasites, larger deer numbers, and a rash of especially warm summers. Habitat conditions were better half a decade ago, when there were an estimated 8,840 moose in the state.

The department has stated that hunting does not seem to be one of the reasons for the population drop, but hunters will have to sit it out until the DNR comes up with a more conclusive answer.

“The DNR’s decision to suspend hunting makes sense given the disturbing and abrupt decline in moose numbers,” researcher Rolf Peterson 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.”

Minnesota began a $1.2 million research project last month for that very reason by capturing and collaring 100 moose specimens for observation. Experts estimate that the moose will disappear from the state in under 20 years if nothing is done to halt the decline.

“When you watch a collared moose disappear back into the brush you hope the data will help unravel the mortality mystery that is puzzling wildlife managers,” said Erika Butler, DNR veterinarian and one of the leaders of the project. Scientists hope to recover one of the collared moose when it dies to perform a full autopsy.

Image courtesy Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, featured image copyright iStockPhoto.com/Andrea Pelletier

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