GREENVILLE, Maine – The economy of the Moosehead Lake region depends a lot more on moose watchers than moose hunters.

That was the message strongly conveyed at Friday’s public hearing at Greenville Consolidated School on a proposal by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to increase the number of moose hunting permits in Wildlife Management District 9.

IF&W would like to increase the number of bull permits from 75 to 100 and add 50 cow permits to the six-day session in November. Cow permits haven’t been issued in WMD 9 since 2002, according to DIF&W.

Col. Joel Wilkinson, commander of the Maine Warden Service, led the hearing, which drew an estimated 125 people.

Only two speakers favored the proposal while more than two dozen testified against it.

Many who opposed the move specifically objected to the cow permits, saying that female moose were most likely to be pregnant in November.

But all who spoke claimed that the moose population has dwindled in the region, thus decreasing the number of visitors who come to Greenville specifically to see the state’s largest game animal.

One of the few proponents of the DIF&W proposal was Mildred Kennedy Stirling, who said she was “shocked to see Maine guides attacking biologists on hunting practices based on sound, scientific surveys.”

She also said that in her view, “moose are plentiful here; and hunting is a critical tool of wildlife management and a significant economic driver in the Moosehead Lake region.”

Stirling also read a letter from Maine Guide Wayne Plummer, who cited the results of the bear hunting referendum last November.

How can we – as sportsmen – support biologists on one issue, but not another?” Plummer wrote.

But the majority of speakers like Chris Keene said that Maine guides and owners of tourist-related businesses are in a better position to judge moose population than hunters “who are only in the field for six days – 12 if they’re lucky. How valuable can their input be, compared to recreational guides? We’re in the field for six or seven months a year.”

Gregg Christensen, a physicians assistant at C.A. Dean Memorial Hospital, said that “people who come to this area to see moose spend more money than moose hunters.”

Christensen emphasized that he was a hunter and enjoyed the sport, but said that current efforts to “brand” the Moosehead Lake region as a premier tourist attraction “are going to be hard if there are no moose to see.”

Dave Vaughn, the owner of Moosetracks Family Cottages on Prong Pond, agreed.

“On any visitor’s list of things to do in the Moosehead Lake region, moose watching is near the top,” Vaughn said. He questioned the accuracy of moose surveys and suggested that DIF&W “suspend the moose hunt entirely until an accurate population is known.”

Chris Young, who operates Young’s Guide Service with his wife, Bethany, launched an online petition opposing the expansion of permits on Change.org that drew 2,000 electronic signatures. Young testified that he spends up to 300 days per year in the woods “and the moose population is decreasing at an alarming rate.”

Young recalled that a public hearing was held five years ago in Greenville on a proposal to increase bull permits from 50 to 75.

“I personally attended that meeting and listened to the vast majority voice their opinions against it,” Young said.

Eventually, the proposal was scrapped, Young said.

“But within a few years, 25 tags were added without ever holding another public hearing.”

He added that the same thing could happen to the current proposal.

The tick infestation to the moose population also concerned several opponents, including Armand Davis of Greenville.

“We had a young moose actually come into our garage with ticks all over him,” Davis said. “By the time the biologist got there, the moose was dead.”

Davis said he was also opposed to hunting cows in November.

“You could be killing three moose: the pregnant cow and the calf she has to take care of over the winter,” he said.

Wilkinson said that everyone’s testimony would be taken into consideration along with written comments which will be accepted through Monday, May 4. The IF&W Wildlife Advisory Council is expected to make its recommendations at its May 6 meeting.

But at least one member of the council, Larry Farrington of Greenville, said that “based on what I’ve heard tonight; if they don’t change the numbers, I’m voting ‘no.’”