DIFW proposes to manage for less moose in new management plan

DIFW’s new moose management plan includes lots of historical information, along with the challenges and concerns we now have about our declining moose population. In this column, I’ll write about the plan’s information and issues. On June 18, my column will be about the plan’s new goals, objectives, and strategies.

Moose hunting ended in 1936 and was reopened in 1980. A group tried to end the hunt with a referendum question, but we defeated that ballot measure. I worked on that campaign, mostly by raising money.

An increase in the deer population caused a decline in moose numbers, partly due to a meningeal worm that was transmitted to moose. Ironically the spruce budworm outbreak of the 1970s and 1980s actually increased moose populations. 2012 aerial surveys estimated that moose populations had reached 76,000.

The plan recognizes that we must consider the public’s non-consumptive appreciation of moose. “Over time moose continued to be one of the most sought after animals for viewing, demonstrated by increases in moose safaris offered by licensed guides,” notes the plan.

I have heard from several people who offer moose safaris in and around the north woods that they are having a very difficult time finding moose to show their customers. We used to have moose all over our lawn at our camp on the western edge of Baxter Park, but we’ve only seen one moose there in the last three years.

I found it interesting that collisions with moose, which used to be a major problem, have decreased by 50% since the high point of 858 happened in 1998.

Interest in moose hunting has declined. Applicants for moose hunting permits peaked in 1994 with 94,532 (74,424 residents, 20,108 nonresidents). From 2006 to 2016 annual moose permit applicants averaged around 56,000, a decline of 40%. Still in 2015 chances of being drawn for a moose permit was only 6.6% for residents and 1.8% for nonresidents.

A survey taken for the management plan found that 63% of the public rated moose management as excellent or good with only 4% rating it as poor. Of course the public knows very little about moose management, partly because the news media no longer reports on hunting and fishing and other wildlife issues.

I’ve been particularly interested in the conflicts between moose and deer. The plan notes that deer hunters in western, northern and eastern parts of Maine have declined. That’s been a particular problem for Maine’s sporting camps, guides and rural Maine businesses.

You must know that winter ticks have had a devastating impact on moose. The report notes that until the early 1990s winter ticks had not appeared to significantly impact moose. In 2014 DIFW began working with New Hampshire’s Department of Fish and Wildlife and the University of New Hampshire on studies to determine survival rates of adult female and calf moose.

They discovered that there was quite a difference in survival rates between calves and adults. The most devastating impact of ticks is on calves. “Understanding how this will affect the dynamics in future conservation of moose will be critical to the next decade of planning and management,” notes the plan.

The department believes that moose densities may be the biggest reason why winter ticks are having such an influence on moose abundance. “Lower densities of moose are likely necessary to reduce the rate and influence of winter ticks and other parasites and maintain a healthy moose population,” concludes the plan. For me that is a very troubling conclusion that will lead to a continuing decline in Maine’s moose population.

I have been advocating for ways to save our moose from the devastation of ticks, including bringing moose into feeding stations in the winter and killing the tics that are on them with some kind of spray.

In this outdoor news column on June 18 I tell you about the new goals and objectives of the moose management plan.

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.