Researchers are linking northern Minnesota’s rapidly declining moose population with climate change, and preventing the iconic animal’s extinction may prove exceptionally difficult, Scientific American reported.
Recent aerial surveys in the state’s northeastern corner found 4,230 animals, or less than half the number counted in 2006.
“It’s very hard to identify in the field exactly what an animal is dying from,” retired researcher Mark Lenarz told Scientific American. “We know something about the symptoms, but we don’t necessarily know the exact causes of mortality.”
Scientists said hotter summers, warmer winters and “favorable conditions” for ticks, parasites and invasive species are contributing to the drop.
Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources started tracking 150 healthy adult moose in 2002, and watched 119 of the animals die from unknown causes.
This isn’t the first example scientists have documented, either.
Moose populations declined to less than 100 animals from 4,000 in the state’s northwest over a 20-year period beginning in the 1980s, Scientific American said.
Native Americans in the area are especially troubled by the research, Northland News reported.
“If this population continues to decline to a period where there is not a certain number of animals where we can take some, that’s a significant issue to the band members because they will lose that potential food source,” said Sonny Myers, executive director of the 1854 Treaty Authority, told Northwest News.
The state will issue 87 tags this year for the annual moose hunt despite the decline, according to the Pioneer Press.
Hunters are only allowed to kill male moose, and wildlife officials suggest removing less than 100 won’t affect the overall health of the population.
The number of tags issued this year is about 15 percent less than 2011.
“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,” researcher Rolf Peterson told the Pioneer Press.
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