MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Wildlife managers now estimate Minnesota's moose population at 4,350 — substantially higher than last winter's figure — but cautioned Friday there's been no significant change in the species' long-term downward population trend in the state.
Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager for the Department of Natural Resources, noted that the new estimate from this winter's annual aerial survey was very close to 2012's estimate of 4,230 — suggesting that last winter's figure of 2,760 may have undercounted the animals. He said uncertainty is inherent in all wildlife population surveys.
"The higher estimate this winter likely is related to ideal survey conditions rather than any actual increase in the population," Cornicelli said in a statement. "This year's heavy snows across northeastern Minnesota made it comparatively easy to spot dark-bodied moose against an unbroken background of white."
This year's higher number is about half the 2006 estimate of 8,840, the DNR pointed out.
DNR officials canceled the state's 2013 moose hunting season because of last year's low estimate and persuaded Chippewa tribal governments with treaty rights in northeastern Minnesota to suspend their hunts as well. The agency said it won't make a final decision about a 2014 season until after consulting with the affected bands.
Scientists suspect some combination of warmer weather, parasites, diseases and changing habitat is behind the long-term decline of Minnesota's moose population.
In an effort to gain a better understanding, DNR recently entered the second year of an ongoing high-tech mortality study using GPS radio collars and stomach implants to give researchers early warnings when a study moose dies so they can try to reach the carcass and collect samples within 24 hours, before it decomposes or scavengers destroy the evidence.
Crews just finished collaring 36 adult moose to replace those that died last year and plan to collar another 50 calves after they're born this spring.
"Mortality rates of 21 percent among adult moose and 74 percent for calves in the first year of the studies illustrate the complexity of Minnesota's moose population problem," Cornicelli said.