ST. PAUL, Minn., Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Minnesota's moose population has plummeted by half since 2010, prompting state officials Wednesday to announce the cancellation of this year's hunting season.
The Department of Natural Resources said in a release on its website that its recently completed aerial survey of moose in northeastern Minnesota indicated a 35 percent drop in the past year and a 52 percent decrease since 2010.
The agency said not only will there be no 2013 hunting season but officials won't consider opening future seasons unless the population recovers.
"The state's moose population has been in decline for years but never at the precipitous rate documented this winter," DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said. "This is further and definitive evidence the population is not healthy. It reaffirms the conservation community's need to better understand why this iconic species of the north is disappearing from our state."
While the cause of the die-off isn't know, he said the moose population's precipitous drop cannot be blamed on past hunting seasons.
"Yet taking this action is reasonable and responsible in light of latest data and an uncertain future," Landwehr said
"It's now prudent to control every source of mortality we can as we seek to understand causes of population decline."
Last month's survey put Minnesota's moose population at 2,760, down from 4,230 in 2012 and 8,840 as recently as 2006.
The DNR has started a major research effort to determine why Minnesota's moose are dying. Researchers last month began fitting 100 moose in northeastern Minnesota with GPS tracking and data collection collars in a multiyear investigation into the causes of adult moose mortality, calf mortality, calf survival, moose use of existing habitat and habitat quality.
"The DNR's decision to suspend hunting makes sense given the disturbing and abrupt decline in moose numbers," said Rolf Peterson, a research professor at Michigan Technological University known for his study of the wolf-moose relationship on Lake Superior's Isle Royale. "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."