In addition to death by hunters and vehicles, parasites — such as winter ticks, lungworm and tapeworm — are killing many of Maine’s moose. So many that the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, in a knee-jerk reaction to mortality reports last spring, dramatically lowered the number of moose permits proposed. Thus, nearly 950 fewer moose were killed by hunters in 2014 compared to 2013. Again, 280 fewer permits are being proposed for 2015.
Yet some moose tick experts believe a connection exists between tick infestations and overpopulation. Also, overbrowsing of immature hardwood forests, another indicator of overpopulation, results in malnourished animals and slows reforestation, an economic concern for large landowners.
Why, then, is the moose harvest being reduced? Isn’t a greater harvest one of the most effective remedies for controlling ticks and overbrowsing?
Death by winter tick and starvation are the cruelest ways for a moose to die. Tens of thousands of these tiny bugs attach themselves to animals and suck the blood. The moose becomes anemic, and when warmth and food are needed the most, instead of eating, it frantically rubs off its winter fur coat to detach the ticks. The sight of a tick-infested animal makes it easy to fathom why even the hungriest carnivores pass up a dead carcass.
Better to die by a bullet.
Forestry practices, such as clearcutting and strip cutting, concentrates cover for moose and funnels animals through areas where ticks lie in wait for host animals. Furthermore, herbicides applied to recently cut forests eliminates an attractive food source for moose. The resulting loss of favorable habitat affects the health of the species.
Until I watched moose die by ticks and recently observed masses of moose destroying young forests by overbrowsing, I just accepted as gospel the DIF&W proclamations about the number of moose permits needed. Today, I have to question its judgment. The Maine woods may no longer support our current moose population.
Notwithstanding advice from a renowned tick researcher to increase the harvest because of tick infestations, DIF&W staff made it clear at an advisory council meeting in May that, because of the fear of public scrutiny, bringing the population down is not a decision the department would make independently. In public, staff cites costly and inconclusive “helicopter and collar surveys” and uses scientific jargon to explain fewer permits. Frankly, policymakers should act on the obvious and not fear a controversial solution when it exists. In appropriate areas, more permits should be issued. Clearly it’s more humane to have hunters lower the population if that helps solve the problem.
As an outfitter and guide, it may seem short-sighted, even greedy, to advocate for more moose permits. But moose are my passion and one of the primary reasons I choose to outfit in the state. It’s not my “bread and butter” but a part of the whole picture for me.
Moreover, I love the sight of a majestic moose as much as any outdoors person. However, it is sad to know moose may be dying a long and painful death by ticks when modifications to current management practices could spare them. That is why I raise these questions.
Nathan Theriault is a Maine Guide and outfitter with big game hunting operations in Florida, Kentucky, Maine and New Brunswick. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.ommoutfitters.com or 207-444-7529.