George and Harry debate moose – no, not literally!

Paul JacquesWildlife biologists are flying over the north woods now, counting moose. Must be fun! Recently, Harry Vanderweide, former editor of The Maine Sportsman and my co-host on the TV talk show Wildfire, and I debated moose. Well, we didn’t actually debate moose, mostly because they can’t talk. We debated moose issues. Here’s how it went.

George: Moose populations are declining rapidly.

Harry: No they are not. That’s ridiculous.

George: Last winter Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife tagged 60 moose and half of them died of ticks, including 80 percent of the calves.

Harry: That’s sad, but the year before DIF&W told us we had lots more moose than they thought: 75,000.

George: Yes, that’s true, they took to the air to do more accurate counts, and based on that population estimate, they increased moose permits substantially to more than 4,000 in 2013. But they cut permits 25 percent in 2014, to 3000, in a panic over the previous winter’s research. And we’ll never get 4000 permits again. That’s my prediction.

Harry: Well, you may be right. But here’s my prediction. DIF&W doesn’t know much at all about Maine’s moose herd. For at least 30 years they said we had 25,000 moose and that was it – even though they told us moose were capable of increasing by 25 percent a year.

George: I’ll agree we’ve done very little moose research, surprising given their importance to hunting and tourism. But whose fault is that?

Harry: It’s everyone’s fault. Because we talk about how precious our wildlife is but we don’t spend any money to learn about them. But I think the problem is even more basic – the moose belong to everyone and that’s bad when it comes to managing wildlife.

George: I disagree, but even those of us with the biggest stake (and I don’t mean steak), have done little to make sure we know what we need to know about moose.

Harry: Let’s go back to the alleged tick problem.

George: Alleged?

Harry: Ok, this tick problem. When you have a massive outbreak of parasites, it is always the result of an overpopulation of whatever the parasite is feeding on. So I say that there are too many moose.

George: Well, you may be on to something there. We do have a high density of moose – or we did – so we’ll see what the decline does to the tick population. One thing we do know now is that our cold climate in the north woods does not discourage ticks. Our moose biologist was claiming that it did until 2013. Then he told us he was “worried.” So we careen around, going up 1000 permits one year, then the next year slashing 1000 permits. It doesn’t give you much confidence in our moose management.

Harry: That’s right. So my point is that the biologists should not be the decision makers. They should provide us with the information we need to manage big game.

George: Well, not to divert too far afield, but the loss of deer in the north woods would be a good example of the inadequacy of our research and management. How can you lose the most important game animal throughout 10 million acres?

Harry: Well, we have no real control over big game in the state of Maine.

George: Explain that.

Harry: The only tool we have is the length of seasons and number of animals you are allowed to take. What happened with the deer demonstrates that this is not adequate. You have to be able to manage the habitat the animals depend on. This is demonstrated in places like Texas and South Africa. In those places, the landowner has huge incentives to make sure there are plenty of game animals on his land.

George: OK, you’ve established your world-wide hunting credentials. All my hunting has been in Maine, accept for pheasant hunting in North Dakota. Hey, we need to talk about that! But you are sooo right about landowners. I have said for many years that if deer and brook trout had value for landowners, we’d have all we wanted and more.

Harry: Exactly.

George: Right now wild animals are a liability for landowners who own the land but not the animals. But I am not suggesting that we actually change that.

Harry: I agree. It’s not going to happen here. The notion that wildlife belongs to the public is too firmly planted here. These fluctuations in wildlife abundance are unavoidable and we’ll have to learn to live with them. But that’s not the case with moose today. We just have too many. When the population is reduced, the tick problem will go down. We may not like the low number. In Africa, they build spray stations at narrow gates, and when animals go through the gates, they are sprayed with insecticides. They also spray insecticides in water holes and drive the animals through the waterhole.

George: Harry, I want to participate in the moose spraying! I’m trying to envision this. Have you ever driven moose. Oops! That’s illegal!

Sportsmen Say Survey

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PHOTO: Yes that’s Paul Jacques on the right!

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,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.