August 23, 2019

Are Maine’s Biologists Ignoring Declining Moose Population?

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Cecil Gray, among other colorful adjectives, is a mouthy sort, most of the time out of step with reality, forcing most outdoor sportsmen to basically take on the Maine black fly avoidance method of ignoring hoping they will go away. As I muster up a big gulp (swallowing a bit of pride and realizing I might face some peer ridicule), I wonder if THE Cecil Gray has a legitimate gripe that moose in Maine are on decline?

Based on my personal experiences, the mid-state area and the southern tier of the North Woods have suffered losses for a decade, and that loss has been — and still is — ignored by our state wildlife agency.

Gray further goes on to make the following statement, of which I do concur and have cried foul for many years that most all state fish and game departments ignore boots-on-the-ground feedback from outdoor people.

Before people cry “armchair biologist,” let me say that there is no greater experiment than long-term witness. From Calais to Jackman, woodcutters, truckers, fishermen on remote ponds, hunters, guides, tourists, camp owners, people who fly on a daily basis and professional photographers will tell you that they do not see nearly as many moose as they used to.

And for me to be honest, I would have to also state that most outdoors people that I talk with tell me pretty much the same thing – that is that the moose population has shrunk or is shrinking. Most everything that Gray presents for reasons and other rogue “facts” is mostly dishonest moose drool, but he just might have a solid argument when it comes to what the actual population of the moose herd is.

In discussions about moose numbers that I have been a part of, hunters will tell me also that there aren’t as many moose as they used to see. That claim may be very factual. But consider this if you can. To make such a claim, one has to base the difference on something. It’s simple to claim I don’t see as many moose as I used to. But can that same person claim the population guesstimate of 70,000 moose is too high or too low?

If nobody ever knew and will never know exactly how many moose there actually are, then all we can do is presume that what I saw for moose when the population was 50,000, isn’t the same as what it is at 70,000. This conjures up a few questions. If, at the conclusion of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s (MDIFW) moose study and further years of aerial moose surveys, the head moose biologist states the moose population at 100,000 or 20,000, or anything in between, who is going to accept that and what will it do to each one of us in our thinking about our own moose observation? Can we then honestly conclude that management practices to date, including the allotment of moose permits, is wrong or right?

Is the moose population in Maine dropping as Gray and other outdoor enthusiasts are claiming? Gray calls for a reduction in the number of moose permits allotted. That would be a good call IF his assertion that moose numbers are shrinking is scientifically substantiated. And therein, might lie the rub.

There are two things (at least) to consider. One is the bastardization of science. It’s gotten so bad in places little trust can be placed with scientists. This has reared its ugly head in Minnesota and other states, particularly those near to the Yellowstone National Park ecosystem where moose numbers present a problem.

The other issue, while I don’t know that it has an official name, I call it the delayed wildlife management conundrum. As I have discovered over the years in this field of work, there is a 3-5 year lapse, where what is happening on the ground, is not substantiated by the scientific management effort for at least a 3-5 years period. I say “at least” because I have seen it last far longer.

Maine is just now undertaking their own moose study in hopes of determining if there is a population decline and if so, what is causing it. Honest and good science will give us that answer. Agenda-driven, greedy and fake science will only give us the same dishonest and unproven drool we’ve heard for years.

Pretending it will be a legitimate study, one has to wonder if there really is a shortage of moose and moose tags aren’t reduced and other things implemented to mitigate losses, what will the condition of the herd be at the end of the moose study? And who will believe it?

Gray claims that aerial counts of moose are, “not the most scientific way possible to determine what’s actually happening on the ground.” That may be true, but for the money it certainly gives us a better idea as to whether game numbers match the numbers achieved from algorithmic formulas used for years. The only gripe I’ve had about aerial flyover counting is the lack of experience in conducting the counts. But with each successive year counting is done, I hope somebody is learning something.

The system in place is far from perfect and I will side with Mr. Gray to say that I wish the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), would open up their lines of communication and put more stock in what boots-on-the-ground are telling them. At the same time, sportsmen can take an extra minute to help answer question MDIFW might be asking to better help them do their job.

To support the idea of taking more seriously what those with years of experience observe in the forest and fields, here is a pictorial essay of what is and has taken place in and around the Bingham, Maine area. This is part of the region of Maine Cecil Gray spoke of in his article; “the mid-state area and the southern tier of the North Woods have suffered losses for a decade.”

The author and photographer of the following photos, had this to say:

I have hunted the Bingham area (Cecil makes a living there) for quite awhile. I think that the Moose population thereabouts peaked a decade, or more, ago. Moose sign has declined by a great deal and we see few Moose on the hoof. We have found lots of Moose dead or Moose parts strewed about as left by poachers. The elevated Moose count may be a lot of bull (as in Moose).