Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Researchers tag a moose in Minnesota, part of a $1.2 million effort to track down why moose are disappearing in the state.
Published at 5:22 p.m. ET: Moose are missing — and the state of Minnesota doesn't want hunters to find them.
Minnesota officials banned moose hunting indefinitely on Wednesday because of a dramatic drop in the animal's numbers.
The number of moose in the Gopher State has fallen by 52 percent since 2010, for reasons no one can figure out, although the Department of Natural Resources said hunting had nothing to do with it.
It cited a variety of possible explanations, including a tick-borne disease and Minnesota's recent unusually hot summers, which moose don't handle well.
"The state's moose population has been in decline for years, but never at the precipitous rate documented this winter," said Tom Landwehr, Minnesota's natural resources commissioner.
The 2013 hunting season was canceled, and Landwehr said in a statement that his department wouldn't consider opening any future seasons until the moose population recovers.
"It's now prudent to control every source of mortality we can as we seek to understand causes of population decline," he said.
In an aerial survey in January, state officials calculated that only 2,760 moose were left in Minnesota, down by 35 percent from last year and 52 percent from 2010.
In response, the state last month launched what it's calling the largest and most high-tech moose research effort ever, fitting 92 moose in northeastern parts of the state with satellite tracking and data-collection collars designed to help root out the causes of rising moose mortality.
The idea is to be able to get to a moose within 24 hours of its death, said Ron Moen, a research associate at the University of Minnesota who is working with the program.
"The thing about determining cause of death is that moose bodies are very well insulated with hair, and they are very large," Moen told NBC station KBJR of Duluth. "If you don't get there quick enough, then you have tissue degradation."
The state is putting $1.2 million toward the program, but everyday Minnesotans are getting in on the rescue effort, as well.
In Edina, a baker named Robin Johnson pledged to donate $1 from every cupcake she sold to the state Wildlife Health Program's Gift Account for Moose.
"This beautiful symbol of Minnesota wilderness is being direly threatened," Johnson told NBC station KRII of Chisholm, Minn.