Climate

Moose Targeted For Protection After 60 Percent Decline

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jim Mone, File

Bullwinkle’s brethren are on the decline.

Two environmental groups filed a petition Thursday to put the Midwestern moose — which roams Minnesota, North Dakota, Michigan, and Wisconsin — on the endangered species list, citing climate change as a leading cause of population decline.

In the most dramatic instance, the moose population in Minnesota has dropped nearly 60 percent in the past decade, the Center for Biological Diversity and Honor the Earth’s petition states.

“Rising temperatures and decreasing snowfall put moose at increased risk of overheating, which leads to malnutrition and lowers their immune systems, while ticks and other pathogens thrive in a warming climate,” the groups said in a statement. The group did not find that the species has been subject to over-hunting. In fact, Minnesota canceled its moose hunt two years ago, and other states have already either banned it or limited hunting licenses.

If the petition is successful, the moose will be eligible for the protections offered by the Endangered Species Act, including habitat conservation and population recovery plans.

Moose are cold-weather creatures, and warmer winters along the northern United States are not only bad for them — they are good for moose parasites. Brainworm, winter ticks, bacterial infections, and other undetermined causes were responsible for nearly half the moose deaths recorded by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in the winter of 2013-2014.

Ticks have largely been blamed for the devastation of moose in the Northeast, as well. Warmer winters mean ticks aren’t killed off. In New Hampshire, moose bearing as many as 150,000 ticks were found to waste away and die, according to the Washington Post.

“It’s a pretty tough way to go,” Kristine Rines, a wildlife biologist and moose project leader for the state’s Fish and Game Department, told the paper. “There’s no question that climate plays a huge part in this. If we had winters that lasted as long as they used to, we might not be having this conversation.”

Overall, the American moose population — the same type found in New Hampshire, and a different subspecies from the Midwestern moose — is listed as stable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It’s a species that’s also known as the Siberian Elk, and is found across Canada, northern Russia, and parts of northern China. Even in Maine, the moose population is doing well, largely due to Maine’s more northerly location and increased cultivation of pine forests, according to the Wildlife Management Institute. But as warmer winters creep north, the American moose in the lower 48 could be a thing of the past.

The moose is not alone in its struggle against climate change. A 2014 report pointed to 1,400 animals that are endangered by climate change — roughly 12 percent of all endangered species. Some, like the moose, are threatened by warming habitats. The sea otter, for instance, is threatened by climate change-exacerbated toxic algal blooms. Others, such as the sage grouse, are threatened by drought and loss of habitat.

“If we don’t protect them, moose could be lost forever from the North Woods,” Collette Adkins, a biologist and attorney who works in the Center’s Minneapolis office, said in a statement. “Growing up in Minnesota, I loved seeing moose during family vacations up North. It’s a tragedy that today kids like my own only know this symbol of the North Woods as stuffed toys in tourist gift shops.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service must issue a finding on the petition within 90 days. If it finds the listing may be warranted, the agency will undergo a 12-month review process on the status of the Midwestern moose.

Since 2007, 55 of the 56 petitions requesting an individual species to be listen as endangered were found to have substantial information, triggering the comprehensive review, a Fish and Wildlife spokesperson told ThinkProgress.