Fond du Lac Band to hold fall moose hunt over state objections

Researchers test a sedated moose.
A moose rests while researchers finish administering their tests and attaching a collar Monday, February 21, 2016 on the Grand Portage reservation north of Grand Marais, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa plans to hold an off-reservation moose hunt across a large swath of northeast Minnesota, despite objections from the state Department of Natural Resources.

In a notice posted on its website, the band said it has authorized a hunt to begin Saturday, Sept. 24, and continue through the end of the year, or until 25 bull moose are taken.

Fond du Lac Chairman Kevin DuPuis could not be reached for comment.

The band reached its decision "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," according to the website notice.

Besides the general hunt by tribal members, the band will also seek to take an additional three moose for "community needs."

The hunt will take place in an area known as the 1854 Ceded Territory, a large chunk of off-reservation land in the Arrowhead region where the band retains the right to hunt and fish on territory it ceded to the federal government in an 1854 treaty.

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The DNR expressed its concern to the band when they notified the state of their plans, said Wildlife Population and Regulation Manager Steve Merchant.

"We asked them to reconsider. But at the end of the day, they do have the right to hunt in the 1854 Ceded Territory," Merchant said.

However, Merchant disagreed with the band's characterization that the moose population in northeast Minnesota has "stabilized."

"We think it's a bit premature to say that," he said. "We're still concerned that the moose population is in decline. I think that we have good reason to believe that when we look at some of the health issues that are going on."

At the time, the DNR acknowledged that the moose decline in recent years has not been as steep, but state biologists still say long term projections indicate the moose population will continue to drop.

State researchers have scrambled in recent years to uncover the mystery of what's killing the state's iconic moose in such large numbers, and so quickly.

A landmark study over the past three years has found that moose have been plagued by health issues like parasites and infections. Wolves have also killed large numbers of moose.

When the state's 2013 moose survey showed a sharp decrease in the population to fewer than 3,000 animals, the DNR decided to cancel its moose hunting season that year. It hasn't held one since.

The Fond du Lac Band, as well as the Grand Portage and Bois Forte Bands also canceled their hunts, after pressure from the DNR to follow the state's lead.

State and tribal biologists now agree that the state's moose population likely never dropped as low as that 2013 survey suggested, Merchant said.

The moose population is too low to offer a moose hunt to state hunters, Merchant said, but added the DNR does not believe that the Fond du Lac Band's harvest of 25 bull moose "poses a biological concern to the northeast moose population."