Minnesota's moose takes first step on path to 'endangered'

One of Minnesota's iconic animals has seen its population drop by almost half since 2005 as researchers try to identify causes.

hide

A bull moose ran in the snow in a prime habitat area on the edge of the Boundary Waters wilderness area in northern Minnesota.

Photo: Jim Brandenburg, Special to the Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Minnesota's moose took the first step toward endangered species status this week when the state proposed adding it to a new list of 591 plants, animals and insects that wildlife officials say need special attention to ensure their survival.

The state's moose population has dropped by almost half since 2005 -- to about 4,000 this year -- as a result of what researchers say may be disease, parasites, a warming climate or some combination of all three. Its new designation as "a species of special concern" would put an official stamp on the work already underway to save one of Minnesota's most iconic animals.

A spot on the endangered species list would make it illegal to hunt or kill a moose, but the animal's numbers are still too great to warrant that -- even though at the current rate of decline moose could be gone from Minnesota in 20 years. And until biologists figure out why adult moose are dying twice as fast as they should be, there is little state officials can do to protect it, experts say, including putting a moratorium on hunting.

"They are already concerned about the moose and doing a lot," said Ron Moen, a biologist and moose expert at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.

The new list of troubled and endangered species announced this week, the first update since 1996, also contained some good news. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) proposed to end state designation for 15 plants and 14 animals that are doing well -- including wolves, bald eagles, snapping turtles and the trumpeter swan, which would be removed from the list because their numbers have recovered.

The little brown myotis bat and the big brown bat would be added to Minnesota's list as a species of concern because they face a potentially devastating disease called white nose syndrome that has decimated bats in other states and appears to be spreading. The Canada lynx, already on the federal list of threatened species, would make the state list as a species of special concern 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. In all, the department proposed to add 67 animals and 114 plants to the list, bringing the current total to 591 species. About 17 are also classified as of concern, threatened or endangered on the federal list, said Rich Baker, endangered species coordinator for the DNR.

Climate implicated

When researchers first detected the sudden decline in moose populations, they imprecisely dubbed it " tip-over disease" -- an apparently healthy adult moose dropping dead in the middle of summer for no clear reason. Since then, biologists have found a number of possible threats, including warmer summer temperatures that slow the animal's round-the-clock browsing, and susceptibility to a deer parasite that has exploded in Minnesota's northern forests.

"There is no question that there is an element of warmer temperatures," Moen said. "But we are not able to parse it out."

What confuses the picture even more is that moose seem to be moving into western North Dakota, not their normal region, and moving south from Maine to Massachusetts.

"So it is not just heat," Moen said.

This winter, biologists from the DNR and other research centers plan to track 150 radio-collared adult moose and calves in Minnesota and Ontario. They have set up teams across the state to find the carcasses immediately when the signal indicates a death -- so they can study a number of carcasses before they are eaten by scavengers or decompose.

That, Moen said, would give them enough information to determine if there is a clear pattern in the deaths.

An expanding list

The state's threatened species list was created in 1984 and last updated in 1996. At that time, the species removed included the wolverine, which was extirpated from the state, and many others that had recovered, including the marten, caribou, sandhill crane, osprey and dragon's mouth orchid.

Still, the number of species joining the list has risen far faster than the number removed, Baker said. That's because research into the status of thousands of Minnesota species has been underway for nearly 30 years. At first the list included well known "charismatic mega fauna" like eagles and wolves. Now, it also includes jumping spiders, moss and rare orchids that are more obscure, he said.

"They are all equally important," he said. "It takes all the pieces of the puzzle to make it fit together."

Public hearings to discuss the list will be held: Jan. 29, Ramada Hotel, Rochester; Jan. 30, New Ulm Community Center; Feb. 5, Bemidji Regional Event Center; Feb. 6, Gitchee Gumee Conference Center, Duluth; Feb. 7, Best Western Plus Kelly Inn, Plymouth.

Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394

  • related content

  • Minnesota's total wolf kill at 346

    Thursday December 27, 2012

    Now 54 shy of 400-wolf quota.

  • Proposed changes to endangered, threatened species list

    Tuesday December 11, 2012

  • Steve, a 6-year-old moose, is a favorite at the Minnesota Zoo.

  • At the Minnesota Zoo, a moose rubbed his jaw on a fence. Biologists have found a number of possible threats to the state’s moose population.

  • MINNESOTA'S DISAPPEARING MOOSE

    Estimated population:

    2005 8,160 2012 4,230

    Number of calves per cow:

    2005 0.5 2012 0.3
  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Golden State 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Oklahoma City 9:30 PM
Phoenix
Vancouver 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Arizona 6:00 PM
NY Rangers
Montreal 6:00 PM
Columbus
Philadelphia 6:30 PM
Toronto
Chicago 6:30 PM
Florida
St. Louis 7:00 PM
Winnipeg
Minnesota 7:30 PM
Nashville
Ottawa 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Detroit 9:30 PM
San Jose
Northern Ky 78 FINAL
Kennesaw St 53
East Tenn St 20 1st Half 5:45
Citadel 26
Winthrop 6:00 PM
Campbell
Delaware 6:00 PM
Drexel
Jacksonville St 6:00 PM
Eastern Ky
Northeastern 6:00 PM
Elon
Sacred Heart 6:00 PM
Fair-Dickinson
Western Carolina 6:00 PM
Furman
Char Southern 6:00 PM
Gardner-Webb
Western Ill 6:00 PM
IUPUI
Nebraska Omaha 6:00 PM
IUPU-Ft Wayne
Radford 6:00 PM
Liberty
St Francis-NY 6:00 PM
Long Island
Wofford 6:00 PM
Mercer
Minnesota 6:00 PM
Michigan State
High Point 6:00 PM
UNC-Asheville
Samford 6:00 PM
UNC Greensboro
Nebraska 6:00 PM
Ohio State
Wagner 6:00 PM
Robert Morris
Mount St Marys 6:00 PM
St Francis-PA
Houston 6:00 PM
Temple
Vanderbilt 6:00 PM
Tennessee
Chattanooga 6:00 PM
Va Military
Milwaukee 6:00 PM
Wright State
Coastal Carolina 6:00 PM
Presbyterian
Central Conn St 6:00 PM
Bryant
Ga Southern 6:30 PM
Appalachian St
SIU Edwardsville 7:00 PM
Austin Peay
Green Bay 7:00 PM
Ill-Chicago
Texas-El Paso 7:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
FIU 7:00 PM
Marshall
Rider 7:00 PM
Monmouth
Eastern Ill 7:00 PM
Murray State
Charlotte 7:00 PM
North Texas
North Dakota St 7:00 PM
Oral Roberts
Old Dominion 7:00 PM
Rice
TX-San Antonio 7:00 PM
Southern Miss
UT Martin 7:00 PM
Tennessee St
Fla Atlantic 7:00 PM
Western Ky
Northern Ariz 7:00 PM
North Dakota
Grand Canyon 7:05 PM
Chicago State
Utah Valley U 7:05 PM
UMKC
ULM 7:05 PM
South Alabama
Texas-Arlington 7:30 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 7:30 PM
Ark-Little Rock
Troy 7:30 PM
Texas State
Arizona 8:00 PM
Colorado
SMU 8:00 PM
Memphis
Tenn Tech 8:00 PM
Morehead State
Rutgers 8:00 PM
Purdue
Southern Utah 8:00 PM
Northern Colorado
Montana State 8:05 PM
Eastern Wash
UC Davis 9:00 PM
UC Santa Barbara
UC Irvine 9:00 PM
Cal Poly
Cal State Fullerton 9:00 PM
CS-Northridge
Montana 9:00 PM
Idaho
BYU 9:00 PM
Portland
Pacific 9:00 PM
Santa Clara
Arizona State 9:30 PM
Utah
San Diego 10:00 PM
Gonzaga
St Marys-CA 10:00 PM
San Francisco
Oregon State 10:00 PM
Stanford
Long Beach State 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Rice 68 FINAL
Old Dominion 83
Georgia Southern 39 2nd Half 3:29
Appalachian St 61
Manhattan 60 2nd Half 4:36
Monmouth 73
Marshall 32 1st Half 1:59
FIU 16
TX-Arlington 17 1st Half 5:01
Arkansas State 28
ULM 22 1st Half 4:11
South Alabama 17
Georgia State 5:30 PM
Ark-Little Rock
Troy 0 1st Half 19:32
Texas State 0
LSU 6:00 PM
Ole Miss
(11) Miss State 6:00 PM
(2) South Carolina
North Texas 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Western Ky 6:00 PM
Florida Atlantic
William & Mary 6:00 PM
Coll of Charleston
Delaware 6:00 PM
UNC-Wilmington
UMBC 6:00 PM
Maine
UMass Lowell 6:00 PM
Vermont
Albany 6:00 PM
Hartford
Stony Brook 6:00 PM
Binghamton
Boston College 6:00 PM
(8) Louisville
(23) Syracuse 6:00 PM
Clemson
(16) Duke 6:00 PM
Georgia Tech
Florida 6:00 PM
Alabama
NC State 6:00 PM
(9) Florida State
Miami-Florida 6:00 PM
Wake Forest
Fairfield 6:00 PM
Iona
Marist 6:00 PM
Saint Peters
Quinnipiac 6:00 PM
Rider
Virginia 6:00 PM
(15) North Carolina
Pittsburgh 6:00 PM
(4) Notre Dame
Ohio State 6:00 PM
Penn State
Indiana 6:00 PM
(5) Maryland
Massachusetts 6:00 PM
Dayton
(22) George Washington 6:00 PM
Richmond
Saint Louis 6:00 PM
Rhode Island
Wright State 6:00 PM
Detroit
Green Bay 6:00 PM
Oakland
Central Arkansas 6:30 PM
Sam Houston St
SE Louisiana 6:30 PM
Northwestern St
Missouri 7:00 PM
(12) Texas A&M
Denver 7:00 PM
No Dakota State
IUPU-Ft Wayne 7:00 PM
Nebraska Omaha
IUPUI 7:00 PM
South Dakota
Lamar 7:00 PM
McNeese State
Incarnate Word 7:00 PM
Stephen F Austin
Nicholls 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Western Ill 7:00 PM
South Dakota St
Southern Miss 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
(13) Kentucky 7:00 PM
Arkansas
Wisconsin 7:00 PM
(17) Iowa
(20) Rutgers 7:00 PM
(25) Northwestern
North Dakota 7:30 PM
Northern Ariz
(24) California 8:00 PM
Oregon
(19) Stanford 8:00 PM
(7) Oregon State
USC 8:00 PM
Washington
Portland 8:00 PM
BYU
Gonzaga 8:00 PM
San Diego
San Francisco 8:00 PM
St Marys-CA
Northern Colorado 8:00 PM
Southern Utah
Auburn 8:00 PM
Vanderbilt
(6) Tennessee 8:00 PM
Georgia
Chicago State 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon
UMKC 8:00 PM
Utah Valley U
Eastern Washington 8:00 PM
Montana State
Idaho 8:00 PM
Montana
Louisiana Tech 0 Postponed
Texas-El Paso 0
UCLA 9:00 PM
Washington St
Santa Clara 9:00 PM
Pacific
CS-Northridge 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
UC Santa Barbara 9:00 PM
Cal-Irvine
Hawaii 9:00 PM
Long Beach St
Cal Poly 9:00 PM
UC Davis

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: With Adrian Peterson's suspension overturned, what should the Vikings do?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close