Maine’s moose in trouble, hunting permits cut, guides cut out

 

Maine’s moose permits will be reduced by 25 percent this year. The decision comes just 3 months after Lee Kantar, DIF&W’s moose biologist, reported that “Maine has a healthy and strong moose population and has the highest density of moose in the lower 48 states.”

That rosy statement was included in a January 22, 2014 press release from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. I’ll bet Lee would like to take that one back!

Lost AnimalsLast year DIF&W awarded 4, 110 moose permits. This year hunters will get only 3,095. A “healthy and strong moose population?” I don’t think so!

Commissioner Chandler Woodcock called the drastic reduction in permits “prudent,” and “based upon the research of our biologists.” The reduction “will help lessen the impact of winter ticks on the state’s moose population.”

Ticks have been taking a toll on moose for quite a while now, but the department was only able to muster the money to begin a study of the problem last year, despite the fact the moose hunt contributes significantly to our outdoor economy.

And speaking of the economy, the reduction in permits eliminates the opportunity for sporting camps and lodges to obtain a small number of permits for resale. Authorized just last year by the legislature, and amended this year to limit the entities eligible for the permits, the law allocates 10 percent of moose permits over 3,140 to the lodges. This year would have been the first time the lodges got these permits. But with only 3,095 permits being issued this year, lodges won’t get any.

Mortality

“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 was the bad news about moose, delivered by Lee Kantar in February of 2013 to the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. When I read the January 22, 2014 press release, reporting “a strong and healthy moose population,” I asked Lee 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.”

In the May 9, 2014 press release announcing the reduction in permits, Lee reports, “Maine has had winter ticks for decades, and Maine’s moose population has encountered peak tick years before, as they happen periodically. Even with the increase in ticks this year, by decreasing the number of antlerless permits available, we can continue to meet our population objectives for moose.”

The new study found that 30 percent of adult female moose died this past winter, compared to an average 10 percent winter mortality rate.

New Hampshire

“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.

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.

Conclusion

While it’s good news that DIF&W is doing more research on moose mortality, it’s disconcerting to think that moose permits may never again top 4,000 per year – and that the first real partnership between the hunting industry and the department may now never get off the ground.

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.