Wolf predation and mild winters put moose at risk in Minnesota.
In a move to help the rapidly declining moose population in Minnesota, U.S Fish and Wildlife has announced plans to consider protection for the iconic ungulate under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The move to list moose under ESA protections was spearheaded last year by environmentalist groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and Honor the Earth. "The Endangered Species Act is the best tool we have to prevent extinction of our moose," said Collette Adkins, a biologist and attorney who works in for the Center of Biological Diversity. "I'm saddened that moose are in such big trouble that they need the Act's protection but relieved that help is likely on the way for these iconic symbols of the North Woods."
Two factors seem to be the root cause for the decline of moose in the Great Lakes region, unseasonably warm winters and predation by wolves. When winter temperatures exceed 23 degrees, moose can begin to experience heat stress, which opens them up to health problems including a increased susceptibility to brain worms, winter ticks, liver flukes, bacterial infections and malnutrition. In one New Hampshire case, up to 150,000 ticks were found on individual moose within the state. Without the cold winters to help kill off ticks and other parasites, adult moose that don't die outright from disease are weakened and extremely vulnerable to wolves. Of the 47 adult moose collared in the past three years as part of a population study, two-thirds died from health related causes and the other one-third from wolf predation.
Wolves have had an even greater impact on moose calf survival rates. In a recent study involving collard calves, nearly 67 percent of calf death was attributed to wolf predation.
The Fish and Wildlife Service will start a yearlong review to determine weather Minnesota moose, whose population has dropped 60% in the last decade warrant listing under the ESA. The process to place a animal for protection under the ESA is no small matter, and can takes years to accomplish. Once under federal protection, it is often very difficult to get the species removed from the list, even when numbers have exceeded the population goals set forth at the time of listing, such as the case with grey wolves and grizzly bears in the Rockies. Rather, like the recent decision not to list the sage grouse, the threat of ESA listing should spurn the government, industry and activists to find solutions for protection without the need for federal regulation.
"This is just the first step of a long process." said Rich Baker, endangered species coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "Its going to be a data-driven decision and we have a whole bunch of data, probably more than anyone else for this species."