In an ongoing effort to protect Minnesota’s dwindling moose population, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is considering changes to deer hunting permit boundaries in the Arrowhead region.

The plan aims to reduce deer numbers in the state’s primary moose range while increasing them in deer hunting areas that don’t overlap with moose.

The agency will release specifics late this week for a two-week public comment period, a spokesman said Monday.

DNR officials said the goal is to reduce the transfer of diseases and parasites from deer to moose, which has been identified as one of several causes of a sharp decline in Minnesota’s moose numbers. Deer carry certain parasites, such as brainworm, that do not affect them but that can be fatal in moose.

“Minnesota’s moose management plan requires us to manage for lower deer densities in the moose range,” DNR big game program leader Adam Murkowski said in a statement. “Fewer deer in the moose range minimizes the risk of parasites or disease spread by deer that harm or kill moose.”

The proposal also allows for growth in deer herds outside of moose-populated areas.

If approved, the changes could take effect as early as this year’s deer season in autumn.

Ron Moen, a biologist at the University of Minnesota Duluth, said many factors, including predation by wolves, also contribute to recent population declines. Because deer are easier to kill than moose, Moen speculates that wolves might be preying on moose more frequently in the “moose range” because of recent declines in deer herds.

“When you look at cause of death in the moose, there’s a mix between wolf predation and disease,” Moen said.

Deer hunters responded cautiously to the plan, with concerns touching mainly on timing and pace.

“This proposal will lead to significant changes in deer management in the Arrowhead region if implemented, said Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. “Such decisions should not be made in haste.”

The state’s legislative auditor is reviewing how the DNR monitors and estimates deer populations, as well as how the agency handles hunting permit strategies and considers stakeholders’ interests. Engwall argued that the DNR should proceed with the moose proposal after the audit is finished and in time for the 2017 deer-hunting season. Murkowski said the agency feels an obligation to move quickly with the plan.

The DNR plans to post details of the proposal on its website starting Friday and until March 13.

 

Youssef Rddad is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.