The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has added 180 species to the state's list of endangered or threatened plants and animals, many of which have struggled to survive as native habitat disappeared. Another 29 species, including bald eagles and wolves, have been taken off the list.
The DNR added eight mammals to the list. Moose, big brown bat and Canada lynx are now considered species of special concern. And one, the Northern pocket gopher, was newly listed as threatened.
DNR endangered species coordinator Rich Baker said many of the species were added to the list due to new information collected by the agency.
"We have spent the last couple decades gathering an enormous amount of new information about where plants and animals are in the state," Baker said. "We've looked carefully enough at that information to decide which species we know enough about to say, 'This one is indeed rare and this one we just don't know enough about.'"
Baker said about 60 percent of the species on the list are also threatened by habitat loss, including a shrinking prairie.
Another ten percent are threatened by invasive species.
"We've added a bunch of aquatic plants, lake plants, to the list because of our concern about the invasion of invasive species into our lakes," Baker said. "We've also added a lot of freshwater mussels -- fully half of the state's 50 species of mussels are either endangered or threatened at this point, in no small part that's because of the invasive zebra mussel."
The list was established three decades ago. It lists species in three categories: endangered, threatened and special concern.
“Endangered and threatened species, it's a cliche, but they really are the canaries in the coal mine.”Rich Baker, DNR endangered species coordinator
"Endangered and threatened statuses receive special regulatory protection against what we call taking," Baker said. "You can't possess it, you can't kill the species without a permit from the DNR -- special concern doesn't include that protection."
Collette Adkins Giese, a Minnesota-based biologist and attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said her organization supports the DNR's update of the list, which she said is long overdue.
"There are some species that we think deserve higher levels of protection than the agency has provided," she said. "Moose, for example, we believe should at least be given a threatened designation instead of just special concern considering how severely they've declined in the northwest and northeast."
The updated list does include some successes. Twenty-nine species, including the bald eagle, wolf and snapping turtle were removed from the list. Baker said the successes were the result of outreach and work by the DNR and other agencies.
"The purpose of the endangered species list is not to just call them endangered and leave them there," Baker said. "It's like an emergency room. We want to do what we can to get them off there as soon as possible."
Baker said the agency is trying to move towards protecting groups of endangered species, rather than trying to help one animal or plant at a time.
"Endangered and threatened species, it's a cliche, but they really are the canaries in the coal mine," Baker said. "We don't know at what point losing species is going to cause the machinery of the natural systems to fall apart and not operate like it should."
This was the first time since 1996 that the state's list has been updated, a process that was reviewed by an administrative law judge and included five public hearings.