Moose added to state protected species list

St. Paul — Minnesota DNR officials earlier this week unveiled the latest state list of “endangered, threatened, and special concern species” in the state. Species that no longer appear on the list include the timber wolf, bald eagle, and snapping turtle. New to the list is the moose, whose numbers in recent years have been tumbling in northern Minnesota.

In all, 29 species were removed from the list, but 180 species of plants and animals were added, according to the DNR. Also, 91 species had their status upgraded or downgraded while remaining on the list. The updated list was OK’d Monday following a series of five public hearings, an 86-day comment period, and review by an administrative law judge.

Rich Baker, the DNR’s endangered species coordinator, said the update to the list was the first since 1996, and was just the second update since the list was created in 1984.

In a DNR press release, Baker said, “The ultimate goal of putting a plant or animal on the list isn’t to put up walls around it. It’s to restore its health and get it back off the list.”

As was the case last fall with wolves, species of “special concern” may be hunted. Species of the other two designations can’t be taken without a permit. Baker says wolves in the state are in good shape.

“We have had a healthy population of wolves for many years,” he said. “We feel like we’re out of the woods with wolves.”

A recent survey indicated the wolf population likely has decreased from a previous survey, from 2,921 in 2008 to 2,211 this past winter, a decline that prompted a reduction in the quota for this year’s hunting and trapping season. Last year, during the first modern-day hunting and trapping of the species, 413 wolves were killed.

Special concern species are those either “extremely uncommon” in the state, or one that has “unique or highly specific habitat requirements” that “deserve careful monitoring” of their status.

A threatened species is “likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range” in the state, while an endangered species “is threatened with extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range” in Minnesota.

The bald eagle, Baker said, “is  geat success story. There was a time when there were less than 50 in the state. Now there are several thousand.”

Snapping turtles became a species of special concern in 1984 because DNR officials were “concerned about the level of harvest the species was enduring,” Baker said. Since then, harvest rules,

including commercial harvest, have been revamped, he said. Eventually officials would like to phase out commercial harvest of the turtles.

Individuals may harvest snappers for personal use if they have a fishing license.

Moose were a notable, but not particularly surprising, addition to the protected list. The most recent estimate pegs the moose population in northeastern Minnesota at about 2,670 moose, down from an estimate of nearly 9,000 as recently as 2006. Thus, the state will not offer a moose hunt this year.

The DNR’s “species status sheet” for moose also points out that between 1990 and 2000, moose in northwestern Minnesota “underwent a substantial decline.”

Baker said the moose has been on the radar of those who research species for consideration on the list for a number of years. The decision to list moose as a species of special concern could’ve been made a number of years ago, he said, adding that the species is a “moving target.”

The Canada lynx was added to the state list this year; it’s also on the federal endangered species list.

The mountain lion remains on the list of special concern, though Baker says cougars represent an interesting case.

He said species that aren’t known to be reproducing in the state typically aren’t listed. But trail camera images have shown possible cougar cubs, indicating there might be some reproduction happening. Most cougars spotted in the state, however, are believed to be roaming cats arrived from other states.

Elk, located in northwestern Minnesota, continue to be on the list of special concern.

Of interest to fly anglers: graduate research by a University of Minnesota student led to the inclusion on the list of several rare caddis flies.

Baker said there was some concern among development interests about the expansion of the state’s list. But unlike the red tape often involved in navigating the federal list of endangered species, resolution can be much simpler when it comes to state species.

If a listed species might be affected by habitat disturbance, the first path is avoidance, Baker said. If that’s not possible, “minimization” is the next alternative. Finally, it’s possible the state may need to issue a “take” permit. He said such permits have been applied for 23 times in the past decade; they’ve been issued in 22 instances.

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