Lower moose densities may reduce deaths by ticks

2015 hunt at campIt’s not a certainty, but it seems like a steep decline in the population of moose will reduce the loss of moose from ticks. That’s not particularly good news, if you like to see or hunt moose, but that’s the way it will probably go.

The Associated Press recently reported that, in New Hampshire, nearly 75 percent of the moose calves they tagged this previous winter died from ticks. “In the battle between ticks and moose, the blood-sucking insects seem to have the upper hand,” noted the reporter. A New Hampshire wildlife biologist said, “It doesn’t bode well for moose in the long term if we continue to have these short winters.”

The AP report stated that, “ticks are dependent on a combination of short winters and moose density.” And the New Hampshire biologist stated that, “As our moose numbers decline, the ticks will decline, as well. What we don’t know is what point will things level off.”

That reminded me of something Maine’s moose biologist, Lee Kantar, told the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee in March of 2015: “If we just took the (dead moose) results of last year, we would have concerns. And we do have concerns, but it’s going to take some time” to figure this out.

I have asked Lee what he figured out from his research this past winter, and will share that information with you as soon as I get it. Maine and New Hampshire are now working together on a six-year mortality study that started in 2014. In the winters of 2014 and 2015, 73% and 60% of Maine’s collared moose calves, respectively, died from ticks.

Maine’s moose hunting permits decreased this year 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 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. And he doesn’t know why.

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.

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.

Last week we taped a new Wildfire show with moose hunting guide Guy Randlett, and we talked about this and other moose issues, and shared some moose hunting stories. It’s a great show and will begin airing on June 7. Each edition of Wildlife is aired on Time Warner cable station 9 on Tuesdays at 7 pm, Thursdays at 6:30 pm, and Sundays at 9:30 am. Each edition will air for two weeks, so you have no excuse for missing it! You can also access the show online at www.vstv.me.

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. 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.