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Fond du Lac cancels moose hunt

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Minnesota's dwindling moose herd will get a full break this autumn after all, with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa confirming Friday that it will not hold a moose hunt.

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The Fond du Lac Band joins the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Grand Portage and Bois Forte bands in deciding to cancel the hunt because moose numbers have dropped so low.

The DNR announced last winter it would cancel its hunt after the annual survey showed the population had declined 35 percent in just one year. The population has dropped from an estimated 8,800 moose in 2006 to an estimated 2,760 in this past winter's survey.

As recently as last week Fond du Lac said it would offer band members 77 permits to harvest a maximum of 25 bull moose in ceded territory in Northeastern Minnesota covered by 1854 and 1837 treaties. And Karen Diver, chairwoman of the band, said tribal biologists said the harvest would have little if any effect on the overall moose population. But she said a tribal advisory committee made up of community members opted to take a more cautious approach.

"Their original decision to hold a hunt was really split among the community members, and this decision was, too. But, yes, the decision is to take this year off and try to see what caused this precipitous decline," Diver told the News Tribune on Friday. "We'll review this annually as we see what direction the population is going."

Diver sad she hopes the state DNR will work more cooperatively in the future with tribal authorities, noting the state agency canceled its hunt without consulting with the local bands.

While state biologists say a small harvest probably wouldn't impact the overall population, they also concede there is no justification for holding a hunt for an animal population in such steep decline. The state this year moved to place moose on its list of "species of concern," the first step toward becoming a threatened or even endangered species if the population trend doesn't turn around.

Scientists are currently studying hundreds of GPS-collared moose across the Arrowhead region in an attempt to find out what factors are contributing to their decline. It's suspected that warmer weather is stressing moose at times as well as contributing to more parasites such as ticks. The higher temperatures may also favor deer, which carry a parasitic brain worm fatal to moose. Other researchers are looking at the impact of predators, namely wolves, as well as changes in habitat as possible contributing factors to the moose decline.

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