Maine’s moose may be in trouble – what we don’t know may be killing them

“New Hampshire’s moose population has declined by 3,100, which is more than 40 percent, since 1997. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department has reduced the number of moose hunting permits by 60 percent in the last five years.”

As New Hampshire goes, so goes Maine? That could be the sobering conclusion reached after reading the troubling new report, “Nowhere To Run – Big Game Wildlife in a Warming World,” published by the National Wildlife Federation. You can read the report online on the NWF website.

DSCN4025While Maine’s moose biologist Lee Kantar told the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee earlier this year that he doesn’t know nearly enough about the health of our state’s moose herd, we need only look to our neighbors in New Hampshire to see the future. Kantar has launched a significant study to improve his knowledge of moose health – particularly related to ticks – but there is much more trouble on the horizon. Literally.

The biggest problem seems to be changes in our climate. As the NWF reported, “New Hampshire’s moose are… being harmed by surging winter tick populations, associated with warmer winters.”

I’m looking at a 2008 news story, quoting Kristine Rines, moose project leader for New Hampshire’s Department of Fish and Game saying, “In the north country where we have our highest moose densities, depending on what you have for weather conditions that year, we have lost close to 70 percent of our calf crop to winter ticks and about 20 percent of the adults.”

Yikes! Lee Kantar was quoted in the same story saying, “We don’t know the extent to which it’s causing additional mortalities (in Maine). We know it’s a big factor. That’s something we’d like to look at more closely.”

It tells you a lot that it took Lee five years to round up the funding to begin to look at this critical problem more closely.

The NWF study also reported that “heat affects moose directly as summer heat stress leads to dropping weights, a fall in pregnancy rates, and increased vulnerability to predators and disease. When it gets too warm, moose typically seek shelter rather than forage for the nutritious foods needed to keep them healthy.”

Maine sharply increased moose permits again this year, to 4,100, the most in the 32 year history of the state’s modern moose hunt.

The NWF report urges a number of immediate steps to address climate change, from reducing carbon pollution from power plants, to practicing “climate-smart conservation” by explicitly taking climate change into account in our wildlife and natural resource management efforts.

This raises a few questions in my mind. Should we continue to increase moose permits without the knowing how many we’re losing to winter ticks? Are we already killing too many moose? Will DIF&W begin taking climate change into account in its management of moose? When?

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.