Hundreds of species endangered or threatened in Minnesota

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) — While the state of Minnesota is known for beautiful wildlife, the ecosystem isn’t without its challenges. There are currently 143 endangered species under Minnesota state law, and that number doesn’t show many signs of improving, experts say.

Under the federal law only 20 endangered species are listed, said Richard Baker, the Minnesota Endangered Species Coordinator. This difference exists because the federal law considers the species’ rate globally, while the state law only focuses on the status of the species in Minnesota. 

In addition to the endangered species in Minnesota, the state law also lists 149 threatened species and 288 special concern species, Baker said.

Some species that are in trouble in Minnesota include certain species of wolves, gophers, birds, turtles, birds and many more. Even rattlesnakes are on the list, mainly due to human persecution, Baker said.

One clear example of this issue is the mussel. Of the more than 50 species of freshwater mussels in the state, 24 are either endangered or threatened, and nine are of special concern, Baker said.

Minnesota DNR’s Ecological and Water Resource Laboratory, Lake City (Connor Hopkins/KTTC-TV)

Mike Davis works at the Minnesota DNR Ecological and Water Resources lab, which seeks to reestablish mussel populations in Minnesota rivers. Currently, they’re working to restore eight different species.

An early threat to mussel populations resulted from people harvesting the shells of mussels to make buttons, Davis said. Later, threats resulted from pollution and river disruption, such as dams.

“Today one of our biggest threats is disruption of river systems,” Davis said, adding that more heavily agricultural areas tend to be disrupted more.

As if that weren’t enough, an invasive species, the zebra mussel, tend to grow on native mussels and smother them, Baker said.

To put it simply:

“Our native mussels have lots of problems,” Baker said.

Mike Davis

Working to reestablish the mussel populations in rivers will ultimately benefit the entire river ecosystem, Davis said, even causing fish to return to parts of the river where they may have left.

Generally speaking, the most common theme in endangered species is habitat loss, Baker said. 

“I’m afraid that we are still at a point where we are adding species [to the list],” Baker said. “Things are not great right now. Climate change is another big impact on species. Species may have established themselves in a place where the climate has been stable for a long time.”

The United Nations released a report in May based on thousands of scientific studies that found that, “Human actions threaten more species with global extinction now than ever before.” The report also cited that over one million species already face extinction, some within decades.

“Minnesota is no exception to that,” Baker said.

Still, there are things that the public can do to minimize negative impact on endangered and threatened species in their backyard.

Mussels living in controlled aquatic environments in the DNR’s lab in Lake City, Minnesota

“Where they live they can try to be as friendly to nature as possible,” Baker said. “Avoid using chemicals that will kill species that they don’t need to use. Practices like producing less waste and just general and good environmental practices can help endangered species. Donating to organizations that help endangered species is really important and learning more. Just being well-informed is very important.”

Nicole Valinote

Nicole Valinote

Social Media and Digital Content Manager

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