WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. population segment of northwestern moose may warrant Endangered Species Act protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced after a three month petition review. The agency now launches a "rigorous" year-long status review to consider whether the U.S. population of moose in Minnesota, North Dakota, Michigan and Wisconsin meets the criteria for designation as a distinct population segment (DPS), and if so, whether the DPS meets the definition of either a threatened species (in danger of becoming extinct in the foreseeable future) or an endangered species (in imminent danger of becoming extinct), according to the proposed rule.
The agency said the petition, filed by Honor the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) conservation groups, presented "substantial scientific or commercial information that listing under the ESA may be warranted." The three-month petition finding is the first step in what is supposed to be a two-year listing process for imperiled species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The agency now opens a 60-day comment period to gather additional information from the public and a variety of stakeholders, which will then be peer reviewed in the year-long process to determine if listing is justifiable. If so, the agency is required to publish a proposal to list the moose as endangered or threatened under the ESA within one year of receipt of the petition, according to the timeline outlined by the act.
Apparently, the legally-mandated timeline does contain considerable wiggle room for the listing agencies (the FWS for land species and the National Marine Fisheries Service for marine species). The agencies "are required to make a finding within 90 days of receiving a petition (to the extent practicable) as to whether there is 'substantial information' indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted," according to the FWS's explanation of the timeline. The petition regarding the moose was received on July 9, 2015, according to the finding.
The CBD noted that moose, the largest members of the deer family, are adapted to live in the north woods. Their thick fur insulates them from the cold, and their long legs and broad feet help them move easily through deep snow drifts. Warming temperatures and less snowfall leave the animals vulnerable to overheating, malnutrition and lowered immunity, and makes them more susceptible to ticks, brain worm, liver flukes and other parasites or pathogens that thrive in warming conditions, the group said.
"The Endangered Species Act is the best tool we have to prevent extinction of our moose," Collette Adkins, a CBD biologist and attorney, said. "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. Climate change, habitat destruction by mining industries, disease and other threats are driving moose to the brink."
The FWS petition finding noted that the scientific sources cited in the petition maintain that the moose face additional threats from logging and fire, resource development, and hunting. Small, fragmented populations, collisions with vehicles and inadequate regulations contribute to the moose's decline as well, the document noted.
The CBD claims that the moose population in Minnesota has declined by 60 percent in the past ten years, and that there may be as few as 4,000 moose left in that state. "In response to the dramatic declines, Minnesota cancelled its moose hunt in 2013, and North Dakota reduced the number of hunting tags. Michigan and Wisconsin have never allowed moose hunting," the CBD said in their response to the agency's petition finding.
Comments and information are requested by Aug. 2.