Conservation Minnesota

Minnesota’s Iconic Animals Always A Concern

JohnHellandbiopicThe beginning of 2013 has found three of Minnesota’s most iconic animals receiving critical attention.  Of course there is still a big spotlight on the recent completion of the state’s first wolf hunt after the animal was taken off the federal endangered and threatened species list.  A new $1.2 million study is starting this month to try to determine why the population of moose in the state is falling so precipitously.  And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may allow a new “incidental take” permit for a proposed wind farm in Goodhue County on a limited number of bald eagles.

Although the DNR’s controversial wolf hunting and trapping season could have lasted until the end of this month, the limited quota of 400 wolves allowed to be taken basically happened by the start of January.  As it turned out, almost twice as many wolves were taken by trapping than shooting.  The wolf population of around 3,000 in the state was estimated to be “safe” by the DNR, even if up to 900 wolves annually were legally taken for a number of years.  Nationally-recognized wolf researcher, David Mech of the University of Minnesota, generally agrees with the taken quota.

Minnesota’s moose population has decreased almost by half in the past five years – from about 8,000 to 4,000.  If this continues, the DNR estimates that the moose population could totally disappear in 20 years.  While male moose can legally be hunted in 30 northeastern zones in the state, only 46 were taken during the 2012 season.  The new study, being funded by the Legislative Citizen-Commission on Minnesota Resources, will use GPS tracking devices on about 100 moose and will build on existing studies being conducted.  Hopefully the study results can determine if the population decline is mainly due to disease, deer parasites, or the continued warming caused by climate change.

As we know, Minnesotans have gotten somewhat used to seeing bald eagles again, especially along the Mississippi river and within the twin cities metro area.  They were delisted as a “species of special concern” in 2007.  So the federal “incidental take” permit being proposed, for a limited number of 8-14 eagles possibly killed by wind turbines, is somewhat controversial in southeastern Minnesota.  As one local official said, it would be a “license to kill” one of the symbols of this country, which recently was an animal deemed a threatened species.  Estimates are that there are 12 bald eagle nests and around 400 total eagles in the area of the proposed wind farm.

So I find it ironic that in the past 40 years, these three iconic species once severely threatened in number are under some threat again.  Whether the threat is very limited, as in the case of the bald eagles, more moderate, which is the situation in the continuing wolf hunting scenario, or possibly destructive, with the terrible moose decline in northern Minnesota, people experience great joy and even love seeing them or knowing they exist in our hinterlands.  That’s why Minnesotans will always deem wolf, moose and bald eagles as species of special concern to them, and will continually stay abreast of government actions to manage them.

About John Helland

John Helland
John Helland is a history graduate of the University of Minnesota. He served as the nonpartisan legislative research analyst for the Minnesota House of Representatives after graduation. He worked extensively on environment and natural resources legislation and issues, and was the primary nonpartisan research staffer for the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance committees from 1971 to 2008.
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Jim Etzel says:

The DO NOTHING RIGHT aka DNR “ESTIMATES” the population. They do not have solid numbers! No one does. I live in North central MN, and hear every year about people who gut shoot wolves and leave them to die. Now we have the trophy hunters and the ill informed who say the wolves are killing our deer. When did they become anyone’s deer. The wolf needs permanent protection from the stupidity of the people who feel the need to micro manage nature. If you live in wolf country, you are in their surroundings. Learn to live with them, don’t kill them off.
James Etzel

Dave Dempsey says:

Thoughtful and thought-provoking writing, John. Conservation is sometimes a set of complicated trade-offs.

laura helland says:

great piece. would love to see MN continue to lead the U.S. in its conservation efforts and by protecting our wildlife species and habitats.