It was the obvious question, after I received a September 7 press release from Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife announcing that Maine has a lot more moose than we thought: 76,000.
So yesterday I posed that question to the agency’s moose biologist, Lee Kantar, after tracking him down at a Delaware conference: how many more moose permits can we now expect? If the agency issued 3,500 moose hunting permits when the population was thought to be 45,000, shouldn’t we now anticipate at least 6,000, with a population that is almost 70 percent larger?
Many will be disappointed by Lee’s answer, which was a very quick, simple, and emphatic, “No.”
I must begin by praising Kantar for the professional science-based approach he has taken to count moose – a double count technique over two winters while flying in a helicopter over northern and eastern Maine.
Adapted from Quebec and New Brunswick, this proven method was initially used to count deer in a few Wildlife Management Districts with a grant from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund and helicopters provided by the Maine Forest Service – a great example of inter-agency cooperation.
Last February I wrote a history of Maine’s moose hunt and the ongoing controversies over population estimates, permits, and management. I just reposted that column in the Outdoor News section on my website, www.georgesmithmaine.com, for those who want more information and background on this controversial subject
As it happened, Kantar was very talkative yesterday, so I just kept peppering him with questions. Here’s some of what he had to say.
“The maximum sustainable yield is between 4 and 6 percent,” he insisted, a starkly lower percentage than that recommended by the agency’s Big Game Working Group in 2007. In six WMDs, the group recommended harvests of 12 to 20 percent, and in six others, 25 percent!
The department rejected those recommendations, settling on harvests from 8 percent to 14 percent in those 12 WMDs, still considerably higher than Kantar is now recommending.
Lee spent a considerable amount of time explaining his rationale and concerns, including the need to manage moose numbers specific to each WMD to achieve the goals that the working group created for each of those WMDs. In some areas, moose viewing was an important goal, in others, the need to reduce moose/car collisions.
He said his recommendations are based on those goals, as well as the fact that moose populations vary widely from WMD to WMD. Obviously, moose densities are much higher in northern Maine than central and southern areas of the state.
We talked about a lot of other issues, from his initial lack of confidence in DIF&W’s moose population estimate, to the need for hunters to change tactics, to moose mortality concerns and factors, particular to lungworm and tics, to predation by bears.
“Slight changes of calf mortality estimates have an amazing impact,” on overall population numbers, he reported. He’s utilizing data and research from Vermont and New Hampshire on these issues.
“We’re nipping at the sides (of these issues), doing winter tic counts and working with New Hampshire,” he said. “Our next big project will be to look at calf mortalities and evaluate and quantify calf losses over time. New Hampshire is doing good work on this,” he reported.
Something he said really surprised me. Following the winter of 2010-11, we heard from a number of people that they’d seen many dead moose in the woods. Some of those folks were in the woods looking for moose antler sheds. Lee invited them to submit new information this past spring, on the number of dead moose they observed – but he never heard from one single soul.
At the end of our conversation, we returned to his new population estimate and data. “We have so much information coming so quickly,” Lee said, “that it will take time for everyone to assimilate this data.”
He also cited a new moose management planning process, scheduled in 2014, when we will “need new ideas” for the goals in each WMD. He believes that will be the time to re-examine everything, including harvest numbers and seasons. That will be interesting!