The gray wolf, the peregrine falcon, the snapping turtle and 26 other Minnesota plants and animals are healthy enough to come off the state’s list of endangered and threatened species.
But 180 species of plants and animals have been added, a reflection of the state’s major environmental problems — from loss of prairies and forests to invasive species and polluted water.
The update of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) list, the first revamp in 17 years, brought to 590 the total number of species that may be endangered or on their way to extinction.
Several were removed, including the wolf, bald eagle and trumpeter swan, leading some to say the law is succeeding. But protecting those on the ever-lengthening list will require landscape-size solutions, state wildlife officials said.
“We’ve got to learn how to manage at a larger scale,” said Richard Baker, endangered species coordinator for the DNR.
The strategy of trying to save one species at a time will no longer work, Baker said. The new list shows that bigger solutions, such as maintaining broad swaths of forest and grassland, will be critical for the survival of not only those on the list but many others, he said.
Many animals and plants added to the list or moved up in status to threatened or endangered are unfamiliar to most. They include the spectaclecase mollusk, five types of jumping spiders, eight species of dragonflies, and many dozens of plants and lichens.
Taken together, they point out the state’s major environmental problems, including declining water quality, rapidly disappearing prairies, and fragmentation of the northern forests, Baker said.
Today, half of the state’s 50 mussel species are endangered or threatened, he said, primarily because of pollution and invasive species in lakes and rivers. The new list also includes threatened and endangered pond and lake plants, and 25 water insects, he said.
Three kinds of prairie butterflies, including the Dakota skipper, were moved to endangered status, largely because of habitat lost to agriculture and other development. Several prairie birds were moved up in their status, including the loggerhead shrike, which advanced from threatened to endangered.
“I think that over the last 17 years we’ve lost a lot of grassland,” said Mark Martel, head of conservation for Audubon Minnesota.
Two notable forest birds also made the list — the northern goshawk and the boreal owl are now of special concern. Baker said they both need large tracts of unbroken mature forests to survive. Decades of logging, development and the surge in second homes Up North have robbed them of their habitat.
The wolf controversy
Some of the decisions were controversial — especially the wolf. More than half of the 730 public comments the DNR received during the public review process earlier this year were on whether to maintain protection for the wolf, or whether to permit another hunting season.
Howard Goldman, Minnesota state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said that the decline in the number of wolves reported last month by the DNR is an indication that the species is still fragile.
According to the DNR’s count, the population is about 2,200, down from an estimate of 2,921 in 2008. But this year’s tally does not include this season’s pups, which could bring the total back up to 3,000, officials said. So the number could be anywhere from a high of 2,641 to a low of 1,652 — very close to the state’s minimum goal of 1,600, Goldman said.
The Humane Society has filed suit in federal court to overturn the federal government’s decision to delist the wolf in the Great Lakes states, and is one of several organizations that have asked the DNR to stop this year’s hunt, even though the state has reduced the quota from 400 to 200 animals.
“The last thing they should do is remove the wolf now from the list,” Goldman said. “The population is trending the absolute wrong way.”
Martel said that while he agreed that the eagle, peregrine falcon and trumpeter swan populations are healthy enough to be removed from the list, he had hoped other species would get higher levels of protection.
The northern goshawk and boreal owl should be categorized as threatened rather than as being of special concern, he said.
That would provide them legal protection from development and habitat destruction that does not come with the lower status. There are also only four colonies of common tern left in the state, and that species should have been moved up to endangered, he said.
Higher levels of species protection is not a bulletproof shield. While state law prohibits the taking or possession of endangered and threatened species except in certain situations, if a proposed project cannot avoid a protected species, the state can issue a “taking permit” that is combined with mitigation, such as funding for research or acquisition of other sites to protect the species.
The revisions followed five public hearings, an 86-day comment period and review by an administrative law judge.