By Molly Miron
Special to the Pioneer
BEMIDJI — In 1984, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources published its first list of indigenous animals and plants that need protection. The list was updated in 1996 and will again be amended this year.
State law directs the DNR to work at preserving Minnesota’s biodiversity by making a list of animals and plants most at risk of disappearing and to take steps to protect them.
Animals added to the list this year include the moose, big brown bat, Canada lynx and several species of squirrel, all noted as of special concern. That category means these animals are not in immediate risk, but are considered vulnerable. The northern pocket gopher moved from the special concern category to threatened (likely to soon become endangered.) And a pair of birds changed from threatened to endangered are the loggerhead shrike and horned grebe. Delisted animals include the wolf, bald eagle and snapping turtle, which are now considered in no danger.
In all, the DNR has proposed changes in status for 302 species: removal of 29 from the list; addition of 181 species; and increase or decrease the need for protection for 92 species. State law requires such changes to be preceded by public hearings followed by a period for public comment and review by a judge. Administrative Law Judge James LeFave presided over the Bemidji hearing Tuesday evening at the Sanford Center with about 35 area residents listening to the process or speaking their objections to the changes. Previous hearings were held in Rochester and New Ulm. Future hearings will open today in Duluth and Thursday in Plymouth. The judge must decide whether the DNR has the legal authority to make the changes, has followed correct procedure and is reasonable in its recommendations.
“I will absolutely be reviewing every change the DNR is recommending,” LeFave assured those who chose to testify at the hearing. “Once the DNR gets my report, they can do with it what they will.”
However, the judge said, if DNR officials don’t agree with his rulings, they would have to explain the reasons. The DNR was represented at the hearing by Richard Baker, endangered species coordinator, and Becky Marty, regional ecologist.
Speakers urged the DNR to retain the special concern status for the flagship creatures: wolf and bald eagle.
“These are members of our clan system,” said Jean Skinaway-Lawrence, a member of the Sandy Lake Band of Anishinaabe now living in Bemidji. She, like several others, maintained that the DNR has not sufficiently studied the recovery of wolves and eagles or the effects of the 2012-2013 wolf hunt on that population.
“I think we always should be listing on the side of caution,” said Lisa Boulay of Bemidji.
“I know there has not been enough evidence to take it off the list,” said Sarah Nordlund of Bemidji concerning wolves.
“I plead upon the DNR to keep it on the special concern list,” said Audrey Thayer of Bemidji, also an Anishinaabe woman. “The way we’re approaching this is senseless.”
Soren Sorensen of Bemidji said he believes the DNR was pressured politically to agree to sport hunting of wolves. He also suggested that the list should include native bees along with other insects.
Cassie Novak of Akeley spoke for a species of caddis fly, a population of rare insects she discovered at the Headwaters of the Mississippi. She pointed out that not just doctorate level scientists find new species, but also citizen scientists like herself.
One man giving testimony requested an animal stay on the list as a species of concern rather than be downgraded to threatened status. Courtney Kleben, an engineer speaking for county highway departments in northwest Minnesota, said the northern pocket gopher is a pest to agriculture and interferes with drainage ditching and other infrastructure. “There is no shortage of pocket gophers,” he said.
And two men from the timber industry, Jack Wallingford of Bemidji and Quintin Legler of Grand Rapids, expressed concern that new DNR rules could interfere with the logging business and create economic hardship.
For more information or to comment on the proposed amendments, go to the DNR website at www.dnr.state.mn.us/ets/rulesrevision.html.
By Molly Miron