Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- With the state cancelling Minnesota's moose hunt, Northland Native American bands are now talking about what to do about their annual historical and spiritual tribal hunt.
The 1854 Treaty Authority announced Thursday that it will continue to gather facts and input from tribal biologists and members before making any decisions about future moose hunts.
At the same time the DNR has launched the largest ever mortality study to try to find out what's causing the severe moose population decline.
The Minnesota moose population dropped by 35 percent last year and has declined by more than 50 percent since 2010.
With about 2,760 moose living in the state the DNR will not consider opening future hunting seasons unless the population recovers.
"Since it's the only tool that we have to control mortality at all of moose, we've determined that it’s most prudent and responsible for us to not have a season this year," Tom Landwehr, DNR Commissioner said.
Moose hunting is also an annual event for tribal hunters.
"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," Sonny Myers, Exec. Dir., of the 1854 Treaty Authority said in a May, 2012 interview.
Under an agreement with the state, tribal members can kill up to half the number of moose that non-tribal members can take.
Last year 36 bulls and cows were taken by members of three Chippewa bands, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage and Boise Forte.
DNR officials say the tribal take is so small that it really doesn't figure into the bigger equation of population decline.
"We are the largest taker of moose, but tribal harvest has just been a very small percentage of that,” Landwehr said. “We don't anticipate there to be a biological impact from that."
The 1854 Treaty Authority Board determined that future decisions on moose harvests will continue to be based on sound conservation principles.
“There is no specific timeframe for a decision and that because it involves treaty rights it cannot be done without careful consideration of all facts and the impact of any decision on tribal members,” Norman Deschampe, Chairman of the 1854 Treaty Authority Board said.
Last month the DNR launched a $1.2 million project to collar and track 100 cows and 50 calves in the Northland to help them learn more about the declining population.
According to Lou Cornicelli, DNR Wildlife Research Manager, previous studies have shown that wolf predation amounts to up to 10 percent of the loss while warming temperatures and diseases also play roles.
This is the first time that calf mortality has been studied, and researchers hope to learn more about how predation affects calf survival rates.
“When the animal dies, they will send the team of responders a text message that says they animal has died and with the location," Erika Butler, a DNR Wildlife Veterinarian said.
Within six hours of death, responders will be able to get within three feet of an animal's carcass to better determine the cause of death.
The adult moose are expected to be collared this weekend; the calves will be collared after they are born this spring.