March 17, 2018

Almost All Good News Out of Maine About Moose

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According to the Portland Press Herald, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) has made a proposal to increase the number of allotted moose hunting permits by 420, with all of that increase in the far northern part of the state – WMD 1-6.

MDIFW is still estimating the state’s moose population at between 50,000 and 70,000 (far too high) but we mustn’t forget that increasing moose permits to 2,500 is a far cry from the over 4,000 permits allotted by chance in 2013.

However, is there hope on our horizon? Is the MDIFW, and in particular the moose biologists, beginning to see things a bit differently? Maybe. Let’s review some of the comments found in this article.

In the order that they appear: First, “A 20 percent increase is very conservative,” said Judy Camuso, wildlife division director for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “We’re doing it in the core moose range in Maine where we have excellent survival among cow moose – around 90 percent.” Yes, 20% is very small but it is a step in the right direction. I wanted to point out to readers that the remainder of the quote is actually quite meaningless. In pointing out the need to raise moose permits “in core moose range,” Camuso says that is where they find “excellent survival among cow moose.”

Excellent survival means nothing if we don’t know how “survival” is defined in this context. Example: generally if a biologist speaks of calf survival rates, it’s most often based on a yearling calf surviving the winter – recruitment. To speak of cow survival does that mean one winter or for the average lifespan of a female moose? It is important to know.

Second, we read, “Camuso said state biologists are already talking about increasing permits in 2019 dramatically in at least one hunting district where there has been higher calf mortality because of winter tick infestation. Such an increase would be used as a test to see whether culling the moose population in areas with a higher incidence of winter ticks can lead to a healthier herd.” (Emphasis added)

Now that you’ve picked yourself up off the floor, read further: “Winter ticks play a big part in calf survival,” Camuso said. “In the (more southerly) areas of moose range calf mortality is high. Higher densities of a host species usually perpetuates the parasite. And climate is absolutely a part of the equation.” (Emphasis added)

I have to disagree somewhere here. Upon a considerable amount of research on the winter ticks, it would be dishonest to state that climate is “absolutely” a part of winter tick survival. Maine’s climate is not absolutely an influencing factor for winter ticks. Weather phenomenon may play a limited roll in tick survival but it is certain that availability of a host blood meal (moose) is of ABSOLUTE importance.

Third, With any wildlife population, when there are too many animals on the landscape it’s not a good thing,” Camuso said. “Based on the public feedback from polling, people in Maine support a healthy population, even if that means fewer moose.” (Emphasis added)

It is refreshing to actually hear wildlife biologists expressing to the mainstream press that “too many animals…is not a good thing.” If true, it is equally refreshing to learn that people in Maine support fewer moose, if it means healthier moose. Do they really mean that? Do they understand what they are saying?

It is seldom, like almost never, that any wildlife biologist would even suggest that there are limits to the number of pounds of apples you can put in a 5-pound sack. If this proposed test is to take place in a WMD that has a lot of moose – reducing the population to moose to see if it mitigates the tick infestation – showed it to be true in controlling ticks, this would surely upset the global warming applecart. It is for that reason I see little hope that such a test would amount to much of anything, but I guess one can only hope. The myth of global warming is so deeply entrenched in everyone’s way of thinking, it is hopeless to think any of this will change.

However, this news comes as good news – more moose permits to lower population numbers in some areas, and a test area to see if reducing moose numbers reduces tick numbers. I hope MDIFW doesn’t keep the results a secret.