It’s all about moose – mortality, harvest, and lottery update

In this moose report, you’ll learn about moose population and health, the 2013 harvest, the declining interest in the lottery, and changes made last week by the legislature to the new allocation of permits to lodges and sporting camps.

Moose Health

Dick Franck photo

Dick Franck photo

“Maine has a healthy and strong moose population and has the highest density of moose in the lower 48 states,” says Lee Kantar, Maine’s moose biologist. That’s the good news, included in a January 22, 2014 press release from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

“The big unknown is mortality. So we have to be cautious in the number of permits we issue. We’re in a position here where we need to see where we are and quantify our losses from all sources of mortality.”  That’s the bad news, delivered by Lee Kantar in February of 2013 to the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Lee was testifying against a bill that I proposed to substantially increase moose permits.

I wondered how Lee could say we have a healthy and strong moose population, when the “big unknown is mortality.” When I asked him recently to explain these inconsistent statements, he told me, “There is nothing inconsistent about these 2 statements.  Be good to talk at some point in more detail about this and dynamics of the moose population.” I’ll try to have that discussion sometime soon and give you a full report.

My bill, sponsored in 2013 by Senator Tom Saviello, proposed a gradual increase in moose hunting harvest from the current 4 percent of the population to 10 percent, with a provision that if the hunter success rate fell below 35 percent, the harvest percentage the following year would not increase. The bill also directed a percentage of moose lottery money to moose research, something I’ve been trying to do for years, without success.

2013 Moose Harvest

The department has reported the moose harvest for 2013. A record 2,971 moose were killed. Hunters enjoyed an amazing 72 percent success rate – unheard of in big game hunts and certainly an indication of a strong population.

Despite the agency’s opposition to the legislative bill increasing moose permits, they did increase permits for the 2013 to an all-time high of 4,110. That was the reason they were able to establish a record harvest in 2014. In 2013, 2,937 moose were harvested. Permits were also increased in 2013.

DIF&W is conducting aerial surveys, for the fourth year, to estimate moose abundance and population composition (composition of male/females; adults/calves). The aerial surveys provide data used to estimate the moose population and health of the herd. Kantar says we have 75,000 moose, which is disputed by many hunters and guides. But I’ve heard his presentations to the legislature and Lee is very convincing.

If he was confident of the health of those 75,000 moose, then it’s hard to imagine why he wouldn’t increase permits substantially. Newfoundland annually harvests 20,000 moose (20 percent) while maintaining a population of 100,000 animals.

I have to think that his statement in February of 2013 about our lack of knowledge about moose mortality is still the primary consideration. The agency will announce permit numbers for 2014 soon, and it will be interesting to see if they go up again.

Permits for lodges

Libby Camps

Libby Camps

The legislature is set to make changes to the controversial proposal enacted last year that allocates a few moose permits to state-licensed lodges – before the first permits are even handed out.

The original proposal established that in any year when the total number of moose permits exceeds 3,140, 10 percent of the permits exceeding 3,140 must be allocated through a chance drawing to “hunting outfitters.” DIF&W will get $1,500 for each permit.

The IF&W Committee last week unanimously supported a change in the law that will severely limit the lodges that are eligible to receive permits.

“Hunting outfitter” is currently defined in this law as “a person who operated a lodging place licensed under Title 22, chapter 562 and who provides package deals that include food, lodging, and the services of a guide licensed under chapter 927 for the purpose of hunting.” In other words, any facility licensed by the state to offer food and lodging qualifies for moose permit lottery. All they have to do is partner with a hunting guide to apply for permits.

The proposed amendment that won the support of IFW Committee members last week limits the permits to “Recreational camps or sporting camps,” defined as “a building or group of buildings devoted primarily to the offering of primitive lodging for a fee to persons who want primitive recreation, snowmobiling, hunting, fishing and similar camps, not including summer sports programs overseen by employees or volunteers of municipalities and educational institutions when the activities generally take place at municipal or institutional properties and buildings.”

Bill Swan, DIF&W’s very capable Director of Licensing, told me he estimates that only 100 sporting camps and lodges will qualify for the permits.

If DIF&W provides the same number of permits in 2014 as it did last year, sporting camps would get 96 permits. The camps can sell the permits as part of a package that includes lodging and meals. Hunters who purchase those permits must be accompanied by a guide on their moose hunts.

It’s going to be difficult for DIF&W to award the permits to sporting camps this year, because the new law doesn’t actually take effect until later in the summer, and they must now also await enactment of the amendment. But Swan says he intends to do it, possibly awarding the permits in a drawing this spring and then waiting to actually deliver them until the law takes effect.

Moose hunting interest declining

With a hunter success rate of 72 percent for a widely desired big game animal, you would think lottery applications would be increasing. You would be wrong.

Interest in the hunt is on the decline. A total of 52,604 applications were received for moose permits in 2013, a 3 percent decline over 2012. Nonresident applicants declined most steeply, by 4 percent, dropping to 14,040. Applications from residents totaled 38,564, a 3 percent decline from the previous year.

This is, of course, a far cry from the 94,532 applications received in 1994. In that year, 74,424 residents applied for moose permits and 20,108 nonresidents.

And on another lottery issue, the department is getting close to giving every long-term unsuccessful moose lottery applicant a permit. Bill Swan told me that 1351 Maine residents had the maximum points (30) in 2013 and 585 won permits (43.3%). That left 766 Maine residents with the maximum points in 2014. A total of 963 non-resident applicants had the maximum points and 68 won permits (7.1%). That leaves 895 non-residents with the maximum points in 2014. The lottery now favors these long-term applicants, substantially improving their chances of winning permits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.