Minn. DNR seeks 'concern' status for moose

A bull moose in a sedge grass meadow in late summer.
Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is proposing to list the state's iconic moose as a "species of concern," the lowest initial designation on a list of animals and plants seen as at risk of disappearing from the state.

The designation wouldn't limit hunting of the animal, which is currently allowed, the Duluth News Tribune reported.

"It doesn't do anything for the species legally. But it means they (DNR) are paying attention to what's going on. It's an official heads-up that something is wrong, even if they aren't endangered yet," said Ron Moen, a wildlife biologist studying moose at the Natural Resources Research Institute of the University of Minnesota Duluth.

To limit or ban hunting of moose, the species would have to move up the list to threatened or endangered status.

Minnesota's moose population has been in decline for years, including an estimated 14 percent drop last winter. Wildlife managers have said the main reasons likely include parasites, diseases and warmer weather, rather than hunting.

A revised list has been in the works for five years and could be finalized next year. On Monday the department proposed adding 67 animals to the list, as well as 114 native plants that officials worry are in decline.

Under the proposal, Minnesota's updated list of plants and animals at risk of vanishing from the state would increase from 439 species of plants, mammals, insects and other critters to 591 species.

The little brown myotis bat, facing a potentially devastating attack from white nose syndrome fungus already plaguing other states, is being added to Minnesota's list as a species of concern, as is the big brown bat for the same reason. The lynx forest cat, already on the federal endangered species list as threatened in Minnesota, would make the state list for the first time.

The boreal owl would become a species of concern, as would the northern goshawk, both birds of northern Minnesota's forests. The loggerhead shrike and horned grebe would move from threatened to endangered status.

But the DNR proposes to end state designation for 15 plants and 14 animals that are doing well -- including wolves and bald eagles, which will move completely off the list.

Some species have declined markedly since the last list was compiled, while others simply have been better studied, resulting in more accurate population estimates. About two-thirds of all species on the list are seeing declining habitat.

"There's been so much new data collected over the past 10 to 15 years that it's really been a huge data analysis project just to see where we are with so many species," DNR endangered species coordinator Rich Baker said.

"The best metaphor I can think of is that this list is an emergency room at a hospital. We bring species onto the list to give them the attention and the management and the healing they need so they can someday get off the list," Baker said.

The DNR will hold five public meetings around Minnesota on its proposals for the list.

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