Let’s straighten out one thing right off. Moose permits are not being decreased this year so there will be more moose for viewing. But they will go down for the third straight year. This year, we’ll get 2,140 permits, 675 (24%) fewer than last year’s 2,815. All of the reductions will come in five of the state’s 29 wildlife management districts – four of them in northernmost Maine and the other Down East.
More than half the decrease will come in Wildlife Management District 4 (west of Millinocket), which will go from 675 permits to 350. Judy Camuso, DIF&W’s Wildlife Division Director, told me this cut was made because of concerns about productivity. “The bull to cow ratio is off,” she said, “and we are concerned about the reproductive rate in this district.” Lee Kantar, the agency’s moose biologist, expressed similar concerns at a recent meeting of the Big Game Steering Committee, reporting, “Today we have some real questions about what’s going on with moose productivity.” This includes a steep decline in the number of cows in some districts. Kantar noted that their study of moose ovaries show that moose today are far less productive than they were in the 1980s.
The remainder of the permit reductions this year will be in districts where the agency increased permits over the past few years to reduce moose-motor vehicle collisions. Camuso told me that have met their population goals in those areas, so will reduce permits this year.
When he spoke to the Steering Committee about moose survival, Kantar said, “We know it’s all about winter ticks.” He noted that DIF&W has different goals for moose, depending on the WMD, with a focus on recreation (hunting and viewing), compromise, and road safety. Kantar’s presentation that day was very interesting. He reported that this winter they are following 147 GPS collared moose, and in the presentation on habitat, he noted that, “Cutting trees is a good thing for moose.” The Fish and Wildlife Advisory Council received these permit recommendations at its meeting on Wednesday and will vote on the proposal in April. You can count on the Council to endorse the decrease in permits.
In 2013, in this outdoor news blog, I wrote, “Maine sharply increased moose permits again in 2013, to 4,100, the most in the 32 year history of the state’s modern moose hunt. That could be the last significant increase we’ll ever see.” I had no idea how right I would be. Since then, it’s been a steady decline, for several reasons, including an alarming death rate by ticks that kill moose in the winter. And now, you can add to that concern the new concern over productivity. I doubt that we will ever see even 3,000 moose permits in the future.
Interest in moose hunting is also declining. A total of 53,545 applications were received for moose permits in 2014, with applications from residents totaling 38,389 and nonresidents totaling 15, 156. 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.