Margaret Levin, state director of the Sierra Club, said the state should consider not having a hunt.
But the agency, including Lenarz, insists hunting is not driving the decline. The agency allowed a bulls-only season in the fall and cut the number of permits in half, to 105. Hunters killed only 53 bulls, some of which would have died anyway, Lenarz said.
"Even if we stopped hunting moose it would not turn the population around in any way. We would continue to see this decline," he said.
Under the state's management plan, one trigger for closing the season is if the bull-to-cow ratio drops below 67 bulls per 100 cows for three straight years. It was below that last year, but rose this year to 108 bulls per 100 calves.
The agency said it doesn't believe a growing wolf population is responsible for the moose's decline. The department plans to begin a two-year, $600,000 study next year to try to identify diseases and parasites that might be responsible.
Lenarz said Minnesota's non-hunting mortality rates have been averaging about 20 percent, compared with about 8 percent elsewhere in North America. Changing that would require lower death rates among adult moose and increased survival of calves, he said. That leaves him pessimistic for the future of the majestic animals.
"In my opinion there is nothing that can be done to turn the population around," he said.
DNR moose hunting page with links to annual reports: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/moose/index.html
DNR moose management page: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/moose/index.html