Midwest moose headed toward ESA listing?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Thursday, June 2, that the region’s moose population may warrant protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. 

The finding responded to a petition filed in July 2015 by the Center for Biological Diversity and applies to the moose subspecies found in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Dakota, the so-called northwestern subspecies (Alces alces andersoni). It’s the same subspecies also found on Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.

According to the USFWS release, the petition to list the U.S. population of the northwestern subspecies of moose “provided substantial scientific or commercial information that listing under the ESA may be warranted.”

The finding initiates a status review in which the agency will determine whether the species warrants listing under the act. The agency announced that it would open a 60-day comment period to solicit information from the public.

In a release on Thursday, the Center for Biological Diversity gave a strong thumbs-up to the USFWS announcement. An American Indian group, Honor the Earth, co-filed the petition with the CBD.

“The Endangered Species Act is the best tool we have to prevent extinction of our moose,” said Collette Adkins, a biologist and attorney who works in the group’s Minneapolis office in the release. “I’m saddened that moose are in such big trouble that they need the act’s protection but relieved that help is likely on the way for these iconic symbols of the North Woods.”

Minnesota had a robust season for the animals until canceling it in 2013 out of concern for the species’ declining population. Wisconsin and Michigan have not hosted seasons though North Dakota still maintains a hunt with about 200 permits.

In the latest population survey, Minnesota estimated about 4,000 moose in the state, a number that has fluctuated in recent years. It’s down more than 50 percent from a decade ago, and the state’s once equally large northwest population numbered about 80 animals at last count. 

The CBD cites climate change, habitat degradation, disease and other factors as the reasons for the species’ decline. The Minnesota DNR is studying the factors for the loss of moose, though last year Gov. Mark Dayton halted all radio collaring of the animals, citing the number of moose killed after scientists handled them. Other research examining the species' decline in the region have been inconclusive.

“Climate change, habitat destruction by mining industries, disease and other threats are driving moose to the brink,” Adkins said in the release. 

Moose are listed as a “species of special concern” in Michigan and Minnesota.

Watch for a more complete story on the what the announcement means for Minnesota moose management in next week’s print edition of Outdoor News.
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