DULUTH, Minn. — The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has announced plans to hold a moose hunt this fall for the first time since 2012. The season opens Saturday and will run through Dec. 31 or until 25 bull moose have been taken, according to the band’s website.
Both the band and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources had declined to hold moose hunts since 2012 because of the rapid decline in the state’s moose population. Minnesota’s moose population has declined from an estimated 8,840 animals in 2006 to about 4,000 this year, according to results of annual aerial surveys.
Wildlife officials with the DNR objected to the Fond du Lac Band’s plans to hold a moose hunt this fall, but band officials decided to proceed with the hunt, said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife populations manager.
“Clearly, the federal court has found they (band members) have hunting and fishing rights in the ceded territory,” Merchant said. “We did express our concern about hunting a population that’s in decline and is as low as it is. … We asked them to reconsider. That being said, we can only object if their hunting poses a conservation or health and safety issue. We cannot make a strong case that the taking of 25 moose poses a biological concern.”
In addition to the 25 moose the band plans to take in the general moose hunt, it intends to take three additional bull moose for community needs, according to the band.
The Minnesota DNR decided early in 2013 to no longer offer a moose season after a 35 percent single-year drop in the population that year.
State hunters took 46 bull moose during the 2012 hunt. Fond du Lac band members shot 18 bull moose that year, and two more bulls were taken for subsistence and ceremonial purposes.
“After careful consideration of biological data indicating the moose herd has stabilized in recent years at around 4,000 animals, and taking into account the traditions and cultural practices of the band, the Fond du Lac Reservation Business Committee has authorized a moose hunt this fall,” the band said in a statement on its website announcing the hunt.
The band retains treaty rights to hunt and fish in the ceded territory of northern Minnesota.
Results of this year’s aerial survey of moose showed an estimated population of 4,020 animals, up from an estimated 3,450 in 2015.
In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that Minnesota’s moose herd may warrant protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. The agency has begun a year-long “status review” of moose in the Midwest to determine whether they will be listed, but the process could take several years to unfold.
The DNR is leading a broad, multi-agency study to determine why moose are dying faster than they can rebuild the population. In recent years, researchers have confirmed that wolves are taking some of the adult moose that perish. Wolves also are killing a majority of the calves that researchers were able to recover. But other factors, including warm winter weather, appear to be killing most of the adult moose recovered.