By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter
Tuesday, March 27, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced that 87 moose hunting licenses will be available for the 2012 moose hunting season.
It’s expected about 50 adult bull moose will be taken by hunters this fall, with hunters from the Bois Forte, Fond du Lac and Grand Portage Indian bands taking perhaps another 30 — the bands’ harvest could include a few cows.
While it’s estimated the state’s moose population numbers some 4,230 animals, the same moose population decline seen across the continent at this latitude is afflicting the state’s moose herd.
In 2006, the moose herd numbered 8,840 animals.
The population has fallen over the past four years.
“If you don’t have a moose season, it’s probably not the time to start one,” said Professor Rolf Peterson of Michigan Technological University, chairman of the Moose Advisory Committee, a body created by the Legislature in 2008.
But Peterson and other officials argue a well-regulated moose hunting season will not significantly contribute towards the moose decline.
Instead, they look to parasites, such as brain worm and liver flukes, as likely more responsible — these factor is not well understood, they point out.
One reason the DNR believes a moose hunting season will not markedly impact the moose herd is because the bull to cow ratio is probably about one to one.
One threshold the Moose Advisory Committee established for closing the moose hunting season is the bull to cow ratio dropping below 67 bulls per 100 cows for three consecutive years.
Although cows may be fertile for only two to three hours and a successful bull mate with two or three cows, recent testing showed that some 80 percent of cows in the Northeast Minnesota herd were pregnant during the reproductive season.
Other thresholds for closing the season established by the committee is hunter success dropping below 30 percent for three consecutive years or the success rate in individual hunting zones averaging less than 20 percent for three years in a row.
The hunter success rate last year was 58 percent. All zones have remained above the closure threshold except zones 23 and 34, which will be closed this year.
Hunters who want to apply for a once-in-a-lifetime moose hunting license can apply starting Monday, April 2. Application deadline is Friday, May 4.
The 16-day moose hunting season begins Sept. 29.
Eleven of the lottery picks will go to hunters who were selected last year but were unable to hunt because complications stemming from the Pagami Creek Fire.
Minnesota is one of the few states in the lower 48 states that has a moose population.
According to a DNR publication, evidence exists that moose inhabited northern Minnesota for many decades.
A state moose hunting season, closed in 1922, was reopened in 1971.
The moose population expanded over time from Northeast Minnesota to the prairie edge of Northwest Minnesota.
But over the last decades the northwest moose has crashed, declining from about 4,000 animals to perhaps a hundred.
Moose hunting in Northwest Minnesota was closed in 1997.
According to the DNR, moose can weigh in excess of 1,200 pounds with antlers five feet across.
Its body length can measure ten feet; its shoulder height six feet tall or higher.
Although having poor eyesight, moose have acute hearing and sense of smell.
They’re capable of running 35 mph and swimming 10 miles without stopping — moose can dive to the bottoms of lakes and ponds to pull up aquatic vegetation.
Last year, 92 state-licensed hunters harvested 53 bull moose.
Harvest totals have been steadily decreasing over recent years.
In 1993, hunters harvested almost 300 moose.
In general, moose tend to be do better outside of whitetail deer range, Peterson noted.
Deer are believed to expose moose to disease and parasites.
DNR officials do not expect the proposed wolf hunting season to affect the moose population to any extent — wolf predation accounts for only about ten percent of herd loss, it’s believed.
Besides wolves, black bears are another moose predator.
Although adult moose are too probably too big for bears to kill, they can take the calves.
Moose calves are born weighing 25 to 35 pounds.