The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wants to add moose to a state list of animals considered at risk of disappearing.
The agency is revising its list of threatened, endangered and "special concern" species for the first time since 1996.
The DNR proposal would add moose and 66 other animals to the state's list of species considered at risk. Minnesota's moose population has fallen dramatically over the past few decades, especially in northwestern Minnesota. The DNR estimates there are fewer than 4,500 moose in the state.
Rich Baker, the DNR's endangered species coordinator, said the moose would be listed as a "species of concern." He said that status precedes the animal being listed as threatened or endangered.
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"I don't think that moose is immediately on its way out of the state," Baker said. "We still have estimates that are in the hundreds to thousands, and I suspect we'll be seeing moose around for quite a few years to come. The special concern status are species that deserve careful monitoring, and I think that moose qualifies for that status."
HUNTING NOT YET IN THE CROSS HAIRS
Baker said that proposed new status for moose won't put an end to the hunting season for the animals. The agency plans to manage the species population to be sustainable. State and tribal hunters kill an average of 180 moose each year in northeastern Minnesota and they're restricted to antlered bulls only.
"The hunt itself is not going to have a significant impact on the moose population," Baker said. "We're looking at the effects of other more pervasive impacts. I think most significantly, climate change, frankly, is having a huge impact on moose."
Wildlife managers say moose hunters kill fewer than 5 percent of the total population each year. They say there are still plenty of bulls to breed all cows.
But if moose numbers continue to decline, the DNR has established a point at which moose hunting would be suspended.
MORE THAN JUST MOOSE
The proposed update to the state's list of at-risk species would include a number of birds, fish, mammals and more than 100 plants.
The DNR would declare the northern pocket gopher as a threatened species. Seven mammals would become species of concern: moose, big brown bat, Canada lynx, little brown myotis, northern grasshopper mouse and the western harvest mouse. The grey wolf, northern grasshopper mouse and Richardson's ground squirrel would come off the endangered mammal list.
Two birds, the loggerhead shrike and horned grebe would be declared endangered. The Henslow's sparrow would be declared a threatened species. Seven of Minnesota's bird species would fall under the species of concern category: northern goshawk, boreal owl, lark sparrow, trumpeter swan, peregrine falcon, purple martin and Bell's vireo. The bald eagle would be taken off the endangered bird list.
Four of Minnesota's fish species would be declared endangered: skipjack herring, crystal darter, pallid shiner and slender madtom. Four would be threatened: gravel chub, plains topminnow, black buffalo and pugnose shiner. Thirteen species would fall into the species of concern category.
"There's some classic cases of species that we've worked hard at and are now able to remove from the list," Baker said.
The DNR will host public hearings around the state in late January and early February. The revised list is expected to be completed by next summer.