March 17, 2018

At What Price the Exploitation of the Maine Moose

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It appears, from a report filed by the Portland Press Herald, that biologists at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) are all excited because surveys have shown there are fewer winter ticks being found on moose than in previous years. Surprisingly enough, this report doesn’t actually give a reason for the event. I was surely expecting global warming…but wait! That’s right! Global warming causes an increase in the number of ticks. Does that mean global cooling is causing a decrease? I doubt that seriously.

From studies quoted by officials at MDIFW, we are told that what influences the amount of tick mortality is sub-zero cold and/or early snows in late September into mid-October. How much of that has Maine, specifically the Moosehead Region, had in the past 5 or 6 years? I thought so.

Here’s an interesting bit of information found in the PPH article. The newspaper and MDIFW should be careful. If they present too much of the wrong information they might just prove that I am right and they are going about their perceived moose problems the wrong way.

This report states that in 2011 there were 76,000 moose in Maine. I would assume they retrieved these numbers from an aerial count that was done at that time. Maine’s head moose biologist told the PPH that at one time MDIFW estimated the moose population at between 60,000 and 90,000. That 90,000 estimate was passed along to the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee for Inland Fisheries by another Maine biologist. Many agreed with the assessment of 90,000 or greater, than 60,000.

It was an official estimate that Maine’s moose population in 1999 was 29,000. Was there any talk of winter ticks killing moose then? If my memory doesn’t fail me, I recall sending an email (can’t seem to put my hands on it at the moment) to MDIFW asking about their thoughts on the effects of winter ticks on moose. I was at the time undergoing some research on diseases that affected wild ungulates. The response I got might surprise you. They said that they were aware of winter ticks on moose, that those ticks might “bother” the moose some, but certainly did not kill any of them. We all learn…don’t we?

To the point. Few would argue the fact that around 2012, give or take, Maine’s moose population was at the highest probably ever. Few would argue that since that time, the moose population has been decreasing. Did it drop from 90,000 to a current guesstimate of 50,000 – 70,000? At least!

Forget the numbers. It is conceivable that Maine’s moose population has been cut in half. I doubt that many would argue that from the period of time when people were tripping over moose, to now, there has been a very significant reduction in the moose population.

In the PPH article, it states that tick counts on surveyed moose have decreased 68% from this same period last year. So, what’s causing the decline? Unless someone can provide accurate data that can definitively explain this decline in ticks, there can be only one reasonable, common sense answer – something that should have been learned in Biology 101.

When moose populations reached an estimated high of 90,000, all hell broke loose. Unfortunately, all this “hell” was blamed on global warming. It is a reasonable explanation that such a large moose population resulted in a marked increase in the winter ticks’ resource of questing for a blood meal for the winter. As I have attempted to point out, Biology 101 teaches that too many animals cramped into too small space results in the growth, spread, and perpetuation of disease. Nothing new here.

Because all have focused on global warming, failure to adequately understand the phenomenon at work, Mother Nature took over, growing winter ticks in order to kill the population of moose. As the moose population began to decline, it wasn’t too long before we began to witness the reduction in ticks. Nothing new here. We are now seeing a 68% reduction in ticks found on moose during winter.

I doubt that MDIFW biologists will admit this or perhaps even consider it in drawing conclusions from their ongoing moose study. If we use their same explanation that climate change (global warming) is causing ticks to grow in uncontrolled numbers, then the only explanation they can give for this occurrence is global cooling. Will they see the direct correlation between moose population and tick population? For the sake of the moose, one can only hope.

I recently expressed a desire to see wildlife departments nationwide to end the practice of making management decisions based on social demands, especially when those decisions become detrimental to the health and/or sustainability of a species. Hunters understand that if numbers of moose, deer, bear, or any other game animal, gets too low, hunting will cease. In the case of moose, the numbers are too high and need to be reduced to mitigate winter ticks. Will greedy guides and moose watching businesses get it? We can be the responsible managers or let Mother Nature continue to force moose calves to die a slow, agonizing death from anemia and exposure.

Unfortunately, as was brought up in the PPH article, guides and outfitters are hoping the MDIFW will figure out a way to kill the ticks while at the same time growing the herd bigger and bigger because the animal “puts a lot of money into the state.” At what expense to the moose are we now driven to its exploitation for profit?

My only hope is that after all the time and money spent on this moose study, biologists will figure it out. But, I doubt that is going to happen. I think it is far beyond the point that any modern-day biologist can get beyond the myth of global warming as being the cause of everything.

It’s really sad a bodes terribly for the future of wildlife management.