Maine Moose: Reduction Needed?
By V. Paul Reynolds

Maine's newly released 10-year Big Game Management Plan clearly claims that, when it comes to managing our biggest and most popular big game animal, there is uncertainty. Moose ticks is the wild card.

The 64 million dollar question is: How are moose ticks impacting our moose population? In 2010, about the time that wildlife biologist Lee Kantar took the helm of moose management for Maine, we implemented a winter aerial survey of moose numbers. At the time, Kantar characterized this survey undertaking as a "scientific look at moose population dynamics." Eight years later, there are things we know and things we still don't know. We do know from gathered data that ticks are taking a serious toll of calf moose, in some cases as much as 50 percent of these young moose die each winter.

Moose ticks and the impact that these parasites have on adult moose, and especially yearling moose, appear to be driving the moose management strategy for the foreseeable future. Lee Kantar says that, because of the ticks, we may have to shrink our moose herd to keep it healthy. Kantar says that the winter moose aerial surveys that have been ongoing will help him and his staff make useful moose management decisions. The question of course is: In today's tick environment, how many moose is too many? Purportedly in 2012 we had an estimated 76,000 moose. The recently released game management plan does not say much of anything about current moose numbers. It does tell us moose population history. In the 1900s we had about 2,000 moose. In 2012, following the aerial surveys, there were estimated to be 76,064 moose in the North Woods.

Although Kantar is hesitant to nail down current moose numbers despite the aerial surveys, he does say that the state moose population today is somewhere between 51,500- 77,200. We do know that 20 years ago moose-car crashes numbered 850. In 2016 there were a third as many moose-car crashes, about 300. And we know that the deer-car crash index is used by deer biologists to calculate deer populations. Presumably this would also apply to moose population estimates. So that may indicate that the Kantar estimate is closer to the low number than the high number It seems likely that, in time, these winter aerial surveys of moose will allow the state to be more precise in estimating moose numbers.

Meantime the aerial studies suggest contrasting population trends: moose densities are high in some WMDs but not in others, which may explain the challenge of estimating moose populations.

Common sense suggests that objective moose population data is crucial, that it is the key to attaining the management plan's number one goal: to stabilize the moose herd in Maine. If there is no yardstick - no population base line - how can you ever measure, how can you know if you have met population objectives?

Here is Kantar's response to my query about current moose numbers:

MOOSE MANAGEMENT:


- IFW has several metrics to use to evaluate the moose population regionally and by WMD each year. These come in the form of trend indicators, i.e., sighting rates by moose hunters or moose-vehicle collisions, winter tick counts on harvested moose. This data informs us regionally and/or by WMD whether moose numbers are stable, declining or increasing.
- IFW also uses direct measures to count population attributes, i.e., aerial composition counts, transect counts and measures like corpora lutea (ovaries) to measure annual productivity.
- Using a combination of data from these examples we also model the moose population for the core range (1-11, and 19) annually to look at changes within these WMDs each year, as well as help determine appropriate harvest levels based on publicly derived goals and objectives;
- Our current data would place the statewide moose population at 51,500-77,200 moose with the majority of those moose living within the core range
- Our current research on survival/mortality and effects of winter tick suggest that regionally there are differences in CALF survival through their 1st winter. In our western study area, after 5 years GPS collared calves have had overwinter mortality on average of 62%, while our northern study area after 3 years shows that overwinter CALF mortality averages near 33%. Adult mortality remains very low <10%; in words greater than 90% annual survival!
- This information is coupled with the data above to provide a more complete picture of how we fare across the core range of moose.
- Lastly the implementation of the new Big Game Plan will focus more on health; this will focus heavily on our research looking at parasites (winter tick) as well as measures of productivity.

The author is editor of the "Northwoods Sporting Journal." He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program - "Maine Outdoors" - heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on "The Voice of Maine News - Talk Network." He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at╩www.maineoutdoorpublications.com


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