February 9, 2023

Commenting on Maine’s Moose Management Mismanagement

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This morning, while I was waiting for my server to come back online, I ended up on a web page of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW). The page is information about Maine’s moose – it’s history and management plans/goals. I came across some items of interest that I thought I would share.

In a section about moose survival, it reads: “Three parasites can cause mortality in moose in Maine: brain worm, winter tick, and lung worm.  Moose infected with brain worm almost always die, but winter tick and lung worm infestations rarely kill moose.  Winter ticks and lungworms tend to effect calves overwintering for the first time due to small body size more than mature adult moose.”

Lung worm is a common name for a parasite known as Echinococcus granulosus (E.g.). The life cycle of this parasite involves various canidae and ungulates, i.e. dogs (canine) and deer, moose, sheep, etc. The danger for moose is that canines (in Maine it’s the coyote/coywolf/wolf-hybrid) leaves tiny spores in their feces that are extremely viable in varying climate differences. As other ungulates, deer and moose to name two, feed or drink water near to the infected canine scat, they ingest the worm and the, so-called, lung worm grows in the moose, deer, etc. It’s easy to call the parasitic invasion lung worm because often the tumors grow in the lungs. However, such tumors can also be found in the liver, brain and other organs throughout the animals’ body.

It is correct to state that “lung worm infestations rarely kill moose.” But that might be a bit of incomplete information. The hydatid cysts – tumor growth from the parasite in a moose or deer – that grow in the animal’s organs, especially the lungs, can seriously hinder the animals breathing capacity which, in turn, suffers the animal to become easier prey to larger predators due to their reduced capacity to escape danger. (Note: This statement also says that moose rarely die from winter ticks. I’m guessing that since the time of this statement, biologists have discovered that the effects of winter ticks on moose is much greater than first thought. While moose do not die directly from the winter tick, the results of heavy infestations is deadly to the moose, through exposure and great loss of blood from blood sucking ticks.)

While Maine is in the midst of its moose study, where collared animals are said to give researchers data to better determine what kills moose, one has to wonder, with the acknowledged presence of “lung worm” found in moose a few years ago, how much this disease is contributing to the overall mortality of the moose. We do know that all dead moose necropsied as of June 2016, had Echinococcus granulosis.

This disease spread rapidly by wild canines, due to their ability to range far and wide, is a very serious concern for anyone spending time in the outdoors or who allow their dogs to free range – especially if those free ranging dogs are living in the house with people. Hydatidosis in humans can be deadly, as it is difficult to diagnose and extremely difficult to treat through surgery.

In addition to a better and more complete explanation of the role that lung worm plays with moose, I also wanted to comment on the history of moose management in Maine. According to the website, “moose were plentiful in New England during the 1600s.” This gives us zero indication as to what “plentiful” means. Such an unsubstantiated statement is actually worthless and can be easily used to mislead, if someone had that agenda. What MDIFW tells us is that regardless of the uncontrolled free-for-all moose hunting in Maine, moose were never extirpated. We are told the estimated population by the early 1900s was around 2,000 animals – a mere guess.

After controlled hunting seasons and management goals and plans implemented, moose numbers recovered rapidly to what the website says are about 76,000 moose.

And now, Maine is witness to what appears to be a substantial die-off of moose. That die-off has been attributed to global warming, over-hunting, predation, and disease.

Were there near 76,000 moose in Maine when, during the 1600s, we are told they were “plentiful?” Who knows. We know there have always been predators, and during the time of “plentiful” there were still “wolves” roaming the Maine forests. There have always been ticks, as we can read about them in past journals. So what has changed?

I think it’s quite clear. Let’s look at what MDIFW says about management goals during the time span of 1980 – 1999. (1980 was the year of the first modern-day moose hunt.) “The Population Objective is to maintain moose populations at 1985 levels in all WMU’s through 1996. The Consumptive Use Objective is to increase harvest to 1,000-1,400 moose per year or whatever level is needed to maintain populations at 1985 levels. The Non-consumptive Use Objective is to maintain opportunity to view moose and decrease unsuccessful viewing trips by 50%.”

MDIFW tells us in this report about moose management history that in 1985 there were an estimated 21,150 moose. So the goals were to somehow, magically I would guess, maintain a moose population of 21,150, increase the harvest rate AND increase the “successful viewing trips” by 50%. We don’t know what the moose population was by 1999 but it is most ridiculous to think that the Department could maintain the moose population and at the same time increase moose gawking rates by 50%, while baring making a dent in increased moose harvest.

Within the management goals from 2000 until present, we see similar nonsense. Canning the idea of establishing some magical “number” of moose, it is decided to shoot for 60% of carrying capacity.

Not knowing what that number might look like, we also read that, “Reduce the population by 1/3 to reduce moose/vehicle accidents and maintain some quality recreational opportunities.”

I am still quite puzzled at how you can grow a moose herd to 76,000 animals, an increase of near 300% over 1985 estimates, increasing opportunities to “view” moose, while not increasing harvest opportunities by a proportionate amount, AND reduce vehicle accidents with moose.

Try to understand the insanity of these goals. Moose gawkers pay money to ride in a van or bus, or they drive their own cars, to view moose. They seldom get out and demand that from the comfort of their vehicles they can “view” a moose in the “wild.” If MDIFW is growing moose to increase the success rate to see a moose in the mud next to the road, isn’t this counter to a notion to reduce vehicle/moose collisions? 2nd-Grade circular reasoning?

Maine went from 2,000 moose, to 21,150 moose, to 76,000 moose in just over 100 years. And we struggle to understand why moose are dying off?

If every moose necropsied in the moose study up until June of 1016 carries lung worm, it’s a no-brainer. If Maine has more moose in the wild than at any other time in history, we are wondering why winter ticks are prevalent? If we are attempting to make it easier and easier for lazy people to see a moose from the comfort of their cars, we struggle to figure out what to do about reducing collisions?

One has to wonder if the money spent trying to figure out what kills moose in Maine, could have been better spent somewhere else.