Moose: big game animal, tourist attraction, and a disaster waiting to happen.

How many moose are too many moose?

State Trooper Dennis Quint, responding to a car-moose collision in July, collided with a moose on Route 1 in Cyr Plantation. Fortunately, with some cuts on his head, he was ok. So were the folks in the car crash to which Quint was responding.

Others have not been as lucky. Just days before Quint’s collision, newspapers reported the death of a Brewer man who hit a moose in Howland, and another collision in Monson. That one involved David Richards, the exceptional director of the Margaret Chase Smith Library in Skowhegan.

David Richards collision BND photoDavid was lucky. The moose landed right on top of his small Hyundai sedan, trapping him inside the car with a variety of injuries including cuts and bruises to his head. But he survived relatively unharmed, a miracle, really.

You may be surprised to learn that there were no fatal moose crashes in 2011 and 2013, and just three in 2010 and 2 in 2012. Given that there are more than 500 moose-car crashes annually, a lot of people have been awfully lucky.

According to a report by Deirdre Fleming in the Portland Press Herald, the average number of moose-car collisions has dropped by a third since 2008. Perhaps there is a silver lining to the bad news that moose populations are declining.

Hunters, guides, sporting camps, and others who benefit from the annual moose hunt would disagree. So might the state’s inland tourism industry, which features moose in its advertising. The most common question I get while hanging out in the north woods is, “Where can I see a moose?”

Moose sightings

We were hiking a trail along the shore of Baxter Park’s Daicey Pond when our daughter Hilary was about 5 or 6 years old, and she was up ahead of us on the trail. She rounded a corner, turned sharply around, and came running back, stammering, “Moose, moose, moose!” There was a cow moose coming our way down the trail. We saw lots of moose back then.

But we haven’t seen a moose in the last three years of visits to our North Woods camp. There are still moose there, but their population has been significantly reduced.

Last winter, Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists began a five-year study of 60 moose with radio collars in the Moosehead Lake Region. Half of them, 21 calves and 9 adults, died this spring, mostly from ticks. New Hampshire has been researching the tick problem a lot longer than Maine, and their findings are alarming and discouraging. That state issued just 124 moose hunting permits this year compared to 675 10 years ago.

While we delight in having a lot of moose, Mark Scott, Director of Wildlife for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, told Fleming, “Research shows the more moose you have, the more hosts the ticks have to feed on, the worse the problem.”

This year, DIF&W slashed moose permits by 25 percent, to 3,095. I don’t believe we’ll ever again get 4,000 moose hunting permits.

My Moose Permit

I could have had a moose hunting permit this year. I was the 50th alternate drawn and last week got a call saying I could have a permit in Districts 25, 26, 28, 29. These are central and coastal districts where moose are scarce, along with huntable land.

At one time DIF&W wanted to eliminate moose in southern Maine, to end moose-car collisions, but they never pursued that goal. Instead, they began offering a limited number of moose permits in central and southern Maine. Those permits are not real popular, to put it mildly, and the success rate of moose hunters in those districts is very low.

I called my friend Ed Pineau, who lives in Vassalboro in District 25, when I got the call offering me a permit, and asked if there was any chance of getting a moose in his backyard. And if he’d like to help me (He’s my subpermittee). No and no. Which makes sense, given that Ed is the subpermittee on a permit that Paul Jacques won this year (Paul’s first permit ever, although he has participated in moose hunts every year). And I’m going with them. It’s a September hunt and we’ll be hunting out of their Northeast Carry camps. Great fun!

Conclusion

So, how many moose do we really want? Probably doesn’t matter. We’re looking at a steady decline of moose in Maine, no matter how we sort out all the competing interests. Drive safely.

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.