With the word spreading about declining moose populations in Montana and Minnesota — and closer to home in New Hampshire — Mainers have begun expressing their concerns about the health of the statewide moose population.
In Minnesota, the state moose population reportedly has been dropping at an alarming rate — 25 percent per year. Moose hunting there has been suspended.
The causes of moose mortality vary.
The main culprit in the case of Minnesota moose is a deadly combination of brain worm and liver flukes. In neighboring New Hampshire, state moose biologist Kristine Rines says that “the winter tick problem in New Hampshire is particularly vexing. The animals lose so much blood they can become anemic. Worse, the ticks drive the moose crazy; they constantly scratch, tearing off large patches of hair.”
Rines points out that climate change and warmer winters have exacerbated the problem with winter ticks on moose.
“You can get 100,000 ticks on a moose,” Rines said.
These tick-infested moose, sometimes called “ghost moose,” become vulnerable to hyperthermia when the cold rains come in the early spring. Interestingly enough, even though moose spend a lot of time feeding in lakes, the water doesn’t drown the ticks, which form an air bubble that allows them to survive immersion in water.
What about Maine’s moose?
“Our moose continue to remain healthy and strong. And we plan on taking a closer, scientific look at population dynamics. We have initiated a GPS telemetry study to examine adult female and calf survival rates in western Maine and plan to follow in northern Maine next year,” Lee Kantar, Maine’s moose biologist, said.
“Over the next couple of months we intend to radio collar up to 70 moose with another 70 next winter. This is primarily to quantify survival, but any mortalities will be examined, necropsied and tested to help determine cause of death,” he said.
Kantar, who earlier this year was named Maine’s full-time moose research biologist, went on to explain:
“While New Hampshire is seeing declines attributed to the influence of winter tick, New Hampshire’s core moose range [with some exceptions] lies latitudinal south of Maine’s core range [primarily WMDs 1-11 and 19]. Bad winter tick years may happen periodical after mild-to moderate winters. The geographical size of New Hampshire core range vs. Maine depicts a dramatic difference in scale — 2,000-3,000 square miles compared to 16,000 square miles. These factors have many implications for our moose population, and some of the differences in what is happening in New Hampshire vs. Maine. New Hampshire and Maine are collaborating on this moose survival project and will also be radio-collaring moose in January. This will provide a lot of insight and information between states to compare as we move forward with this work.”
The additional good news is that Maine is at long last getting serious about a thorough, systematic gathering of moose population data, which will serve the state well in managing the large and healthy moose population.
V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.”