Minnesota's moose population is in trouble. The number of moose in the state has dropped by about half over the past eight years, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which estimates there are about 4,300 of the animals this year. And wildlife experts are still trying to determine why the moose are dying off.
To help draw attention to the plight of the iconic animals, the DNR will announce Monday two separate but related steps that it hopes will lead to some answers, according to KNSI Radio.
The first step is the sale of a new "Critical Habitat" license plate featuring the image of a moose. It's the eighth license plate in the series, which raises money to help fund conservation efforts around Minnesota. Other plates in the series feature an angler, a deer, a loon and the state flower, the showy lady's slipper.
The image chosen for the new plate is something special; it's a painting of an adult moose by noted Minnesota wildlife artist Les Kouba.
Kouba is the link to the second step in the moose campaign.
Not only is his art featured on the plate, but a conservation group that owns the rights to Kouba's work is partnering with the DNR to raise money specifically for moose research.
Kouba, who died in 1998, was one of Minnesota’s most recognized wildlife artists and a devoted conservationist, the Star Tribune reports. During his lifetime, he donated some of his works to various organizations to help them raise money for waterfowl habitat preservation and other causes. Now, some of Kouba's paintings will do the same for the moose.
The DNR is partnering with Les Kouba Outdoors to form the "Call of the Moose Minnesota" campaign. Over the next three years, the campaign will raise money for moose research by seeking sponsorships and selling products featuring moose imagery that Kouba created but never published, according to the organization.
The two organizations say it's the first public-private partnership of its kind, so it's unclear how much money the campaign will raise. But officials of Les Kouba Outdoors say if it's successful, they may help other programs in a similar fashion.
Minnesota had a long tradition of moose hunting, but the DNR canceled the hunt beginning in 2013 because of the dramatic decline in the number of animals. The agency says it will not resume a moose hunt "unless the population recovers."
If you're interested in purchasing the special moose license plates, they're available at driver and vehicle services locations around the state. They went on sale on Aug. 1. The critical habitat plates cost an additional $30 per year, and that money is matched with private donations of cash or land.
More than 104,000 vehicles in Minnesota have the special plates, according to the Star Tribune. Since the critical habitat plates were first offeredin 1995, they've raised $25 million for wildlife research and the purchase of critical habitat.