By Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — A researcher from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says one of the state’s most iconic animals is still in great danger.

New numbers show the state’s moose population is down about 55 percent in the last ten years. The data show Minnesota’s moose population remains low despite a slower population decline, and officials expect the fall to continue.

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Annual aerial survey results put northeastern Minnesota’s moose population at an estimated 4,020. While that’s higher than the 2015 estimate of 3,450, the Department of Natural Resources cautions that the difference isn’t statistically significant. The population could be higher or lower.

DNR’s moose project leader Glenn DelGiudice (DEL’-joo-dees) says it’s encouraging that the decline since 2012 hasn’t been as steep as it was. But he says longer-term projections are that Minnesota’s moose population will continue to drop.

Northeastern Minnesota’s moose population is down 55 percent from an estimated 8,840 in 2006. Researchers are beginning to unravel the reasons, and say they include a complex interplay of health issues and predators.

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Glenn DelGiudice is the leader of a tracking project that started in 2013. Their latest data comes from tracking moose overhead in planes.

“In 2006, there were 8,840 moose believed to be in Minnesota. In 2015, there were 4,020,” he said. “This is a real threat, there’s no doubt about it.”

DelGiudice says they see some correlation with warm weather harming survival rates. Winter ticks and wolves also seem to be hurting the population.

But there is a glimmer of hope — the number of calves surviving past their first year is up. But the mystery behind the majestic creatures remains,

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“It’s hard to say ‘Why now?’, and that’s what we’re trying to get at,” DelGiudice said.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield