April 25, 2018
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State biologists should apply science, not politics, to moose management

By Bob Croce, Special to the BDN

If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? Some philosophers say yes, some say no.

If Inland Fisheries and Wildlife personnel claim there are more than 70,000 moose in our state and fewer moose are being observed today than in the past, does this number of moose really exist?

The biologists at Inland Fisheries and Wildlife say yes. Many citizen scientists — guides, outfitters, sporting camp owners, people who live and work in northern Maine, and moose watchers — say no. Cecil Gray, a Maine guide who addressed this issue in a Feb. 4 BDN OpEd, believes that long-term eyewitness accounts of these citizen scientists have been ignored by Inland Fisheries and Wildlife,while moose numbers appear to have declined.

The Rocky Mountain States, Minnesota, New Hampshire and parts of North Dakota are reporting that their moose populations have been ravaged by winter ticks, brain worm parasites, heat stress from climate change, mosquito-related viruses and other unknown factors. New Hampshire reports current moose estimates are at least 3,000 fewer than five years ago. Moose mortality in Minnesota is so high, the state last February canceled its annual hunt.

Are we to believe that our moose population lives under one of Stephen King’s “domes” sealed off from the outside world and not affected by any of these factors?

The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife department would have us believe that our moose population today is about 45,000 larger than it was in the 1990s. Part of that exponential growth “happened” in 2007, when a state biologist suddenly estimated Maine’s moose population was 60,000 — about double the department’s previous working estimates.

State officials would have us believe that flying a helicopter over a few wildlife management districts in northern and eastern Maine is an accurate method of calculating our moose population, while, at the same time, managing each wildlife management district as a distinct entity, each with its unique factors affecting wildlife. But they will extrapolate and generalize data from surveying a few districts. And since there are fewer moose in southern Maine, they won’t survey those districts. It might lower the count. As the sporting camp representative to a previous Inland Fisheries and Wildlife big game public working group, I heard from state biologists that our boreal forests are too dense for using “fly overs” as an accurate measure of our moose population.

As Gray and others speculate, it’s all about the money. The moose hunt is one of the largest sources of income for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. It fears a continued loss of moose lottery revenue. Fewer hunters are applying for lottery permits because it has become more difficult to “bag” a moose. I have lost count of the number of excuses our political biologists have come up with to explain this trend and to mask the possibility that our moose population is probably in serious decline like in other states.

Now the department is proposing to “market” our moose resource by selling moose hunting permits to guides and sporting camps as a way to jumpstart the economy in northern Maine.

What about the millions of dollars generated by tourism, and the Maine jobs and businesses dependent upon moose watching? Is our moose population going to go the way of our deer population in Maine? Will the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife continue to ignore the signs that our moose are in jeopardy as it has ignored the major threat to our deer population — loss of wintering habitat?

I would ask that our state biologists practice more biological science and less political science.

Bob Croce of Dedham ran a sporting camp in the Moosehead region for 15 years. He is past president of the Maine chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, a national nonprofit conservation organization.


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