Groups file petition to classify moose as endangered species

Minneapolis — A national environmental group is seeking federal protection for a subspecies of moose found in Midwestern states including Minnesota.

The Center for Biological Diversity, along with a group called Honor the Earth, filed the legal petition July 9. It seeks Endangered Species Act protection for moose. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days from the time the petition was filed to determine whether it warrants further review.

The petition seeks ESL protection for moose in northeastern and northwestern Minnesota, northeastern North Dakota, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Isle Royale, and a small population in Wisconsin. 

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, climate change, habitat degradation, disease, and other factors have caused moose populations to decline. Federal protection would bring more money for research and provide additional habitat protection.

In Minnesota, the moose population estimate in the northeast has dropped from an estimated 8,840 in 2006 to 3,450 in 2015. Still, the DNR doesn’t believe the listing is warranted, said Lou Cornicelli, the agency’s wildlife research manager.

“The issue is way more complex than just climate change,” he said. “We’re investing heavily in moose research and management. We’re unclear what a listing would change. Hunting is not on the horizon. It hasn’t been a discussion item yet, nor will it be in the foreseeable future.”

The DNR hasn’t held a moose-hunting season since 2012. But even when hunts were held, officials said the number of animals taken wouldn’t affect the population. The Center for Biological Diversity didn’t point to hunting as a cause for the decline.

“We didn’t close the moose season because the population was in decline,” Cornicelli said. “We closed the moose season because that was the only piece of mortality we could control.”

Like Minnesota, North Dakota also opposes listing moose.  

The moose population has struggled in the northeastern part of North Dakota, but the overall population has been increasing in other parts of the state, said Jeb Williams, Wildlife Division chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

“As far as moose being what we would consider struggling in North Dakota – as far as being endangered – we’re a long way from that,” he said. “Right now, we feel like we actually have a decent moose population in North Dakota. They are just occupying a different area than what they traditionally occupied.”

North Dakota hasn’t held a hunt for moose in the northeastern part of the state for the past couple of years, but has increased the number of licenses available elsewhere in the state.

Researchers in Minnesota have been working to understand exactly what’s killing moose – and what might be done about it. Additionally, Gov. Mark Dayton earlier this year ordered an end to all moose-collaring activity in the state.

“The destruction of habitat by mining and logging industries, as well as overharvesting, is destroying this relative,” said Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth. “Any listing should include a full coordination with tribal governments and First Nations, in keeping with the treaty agreements. Our culture is tied to the (moose) and we will work to protect them.”

Cornicelli, though, notes that moose habitat generally includes large blocks of early successional habitat. Moose browse on brush understories, he said, noting moose aren’t “an old-growth species.”

“Logging should be beneficial for moose,” he said. “It’s one of the prescriptions we use for moose management. The notion of not managing the forest does not benefit moose.”

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