MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Wildlife experts have been following a slow decline in the state’s moose population for the past seven years. But suddenly, the drop in the number of moose in the northeastern part of the state is much more than anyone expected.

Compared to 2012, the number of moose in the region is estimated to have fallen an amazing 35 percent.

The Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said, “from our standpoint, it’s terribly concerning. What is it that’s happening in Minnesota that’s not happening elsewhere resulting in this? Moose is the iconic animal of the north.”

Each year the DNR conducts aerial surveys of moose habitat in Minnesota’s arrowhead region. In 2006, the population was at an all-time high when it was estimated at 8,840 moose. Last month, the same survey counted just 2,760 moose, a drop of nearly 70 percent over the past seven years.

“It could be a multitude of things, habitat, disease, parasites, change in climate. Or any of a number of things going on in a species this far south of its range,” said DNR Wildlife Research manager, Lou Cornicelli.

As a result, on Wednesday, the DNR announced an immediate step to cancel all future moose hunts until the population shows signs of recovery. The DNR is also in talks with Minnesota’s Native American tribes to suspend their traditional fall hunts as well.

Several weeks ago, the DNR initiated a first of its kind moose mortality study. Biologists are in the process of capturing 100 adult moose. The animals are tranquilized from the air and then sedated while researchers place global positioning satellite (GPS) collars around the animal’s neck. They are also fitting some moose with remote body temperature sensors to help them understand how infections and disease play a role in the animal’s demise.

“This new project allows us to get quicker to get the samples we need to identify the cause of death,” said Cornicelli.

The GPS collars will locate dead moose within hours. Crews will then be quickly dispatched to the location of the carcass to allow for the immediate recovery of organs and tissue.

By performing a necropsy of the animal soon after it dies, biologists stand a better chance of solving this deadly and now quickening moose mystery.