MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota canceled its moose hunting season Wednesday, citing a precipitous decline in the moose population, as researchers try to get a handle on why the iconic symbol of the north woods appears to be faring worse here than elsewhere across its range.
The population has dropped 35 percent over the past year and 52 percent from 2010 to an estimated 2,760 moose left in northeastern Minnesota, according to the annual aerial survey conducted by the Department of Natural Resources in January. That’s down from an estimated 4,230 moose last winter. Minnesota’s moose numbers were estimated as high as 8,840 in 2006.
While moose might not die out completely in Minnesota, the population could be too small well before 2020 to accurately estimate, said Steve Merchant, the DNR’s wildlife populations and regulations manager. He noted the big drop in just the past year.
‘‘That’s a steep slope, and it comes down to that — very few animals left, very shortly,’’ Merchant said.
Researchers are conducting studies to better understand why moose are dying out in Minnesota. Scientists suspect some combination of higher temperatures, parasites, diseases, contact with deer, and changes in forests in northeastern Minnesota.
Officials said it isn’t clear why moose are struggling more in some places than others. New England has a much larger moose population and the range there may be expanding, although numbers may be declining in some northeastern states. The population appears to be holding its own or growing in parts of North Dakota. But some Rocky Mountain states are experiencing declines. Canada’s moose population is also falling.