February 9, 2023

Maine’s Projected New Infestation of Spruce Budworm and the Effect on Wild Game

According to Bob Wagner, a forestry professor at the University of Maine, and found in an article in the Bangor Daily News, Maine stands in line for another round of the infestation of the spruce budworm. This worm is a defoliating machine, that during its last war on Maine and the eastern provinces of Canada, it cost these areas millions of dollars in economic losses and the resulting efforts to minimize the effects left the state with hundreds of thousands of acres of clear cuts, done to salvage what timber they could while it was worth something. I’m not sure we have yet to fully understand what happened from the tens of thousands of gallons of insecticide dumped on those forests and what long term effects it may have had on plants, animals and humans.

The questions are already beginning to mount up as to what another round of spruce budworm will do. As an example, one question I have received is what effect this will have on the Canada lynx. I wish I knew. I don’t. I can speculate but mostly just ask questions.

A report I read yesterday in the Bennington Banner said that Canada lynx were on the increase in Northeast Vermont.

The lynx’s favored prey is the snow hare, abundant in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, which also provides the dense forests with a conifer mix where lynx thrive, Maghini said.

History has shown that the Canada lynx will follow the growth and decline of the snowshoe hare. It has been said that the forest clear-cuts from the early-70s into the mid-80s ended up providing ideal habitat for the snowshoe hare. When the hare appeared, so did the Canada lynx. What many surmise is that when the hare disappears, due to loss of ideal habitat, so will the lynx.

So, what will another round of budworm infestation do to the Canada lynx? I suppose with this question, and many more, it much depends upon the severity of the outbreak. One can surmise that if it is true that the last infestation collaterally provided ideal snowshoe hare habitat, in the short term dealing with the worm may have negative effects on the Canada lynx and snowshoe hare, but in the long term, once again we may see the return of ideal habitat for these two creatures.

Another question I was queried about had to do with the moose. Again, my guesses might be similar to those of the Canada lynx and snowshoe hare. Moose seem to thrive in those clear-cuts as they begin to regrow. The plant life available make for a decent diet and the moose generally like open spaces near denser forests.

Presently, the issue that seems to be front and center for moose is the darn winter moose tick. What effect, if any, will a round of spruce budworm have on the winter tick? From my own research, which doesn’t seem to agree with the mainstream and officials accounts, is that the number one determining factor in the severity of ticks ending up on moose, is windy weather. During the time of late summer and early fall the ticks climb vegetation where they will attach themselves to a passing moose. Wind will knock the tick off the vegetation, the result being fewer ticks on moose and fewer ticks that will survive through the winter. Will more clear-cut forests expose ticks to more wind?

Another moose issue that isn’t being talked about is the presence of lungworm, so-called, which in reality is cystic Echinococcus granulosus, or hydatid cysts. Moose are a secondary host of the tiny worm. The worms, from wild canines, are ingested by the moose, resulting in the cysts that appear mostly in their lungs and other organs, i.e. liver, brain, etc. Will a round of spruce budworm increase, decrease, or have no effect on the population of wild canines, therefore having an increase or decrease in moose contracting the cysts? The cysts in moose organs does not necessarily directly kill the moose but can severely limit the animal’s ability to escape predator danger.

Some have described the deer herd in Maine as “recovering” and even “exploding.” Pick whatever adjective you want that makes you feel good. The question that should be on every wildlife biologist’s and deer hunter’s mind is what would a severe round of spruce budworm infestation do to the deer herd? Like the moose, deer find good feed in 2, 3 and 4-year-old clear-cuts. However, too much cutting results in loss of habitat needed to survive the elements of the weather, escape predators, along with other factors involved in the normal everyday of a deer’s life.

It was reported not that long ago, that in 10-15 years, many of those forests that were stripped of trees from the first round of budworm will reach maturity. This is good news but now that we hear about another round of worms, what will become of these mature forests?

It is my opinion that any rebounding Maine has seen in its deer herd comes from 4 or 5 relatively mild winters, following the back to back tough ones that took out a lot of the herd. Would a drastic change in forest habitat coming at a critical time in trying to rebuild a deer herd be devastating to the herd….some more and again? How can we know?

Maine will, more than likely, be facing a referendum in November from radical environmentalists trying to stop bear baiting, bear trapping and hunting bears with hounds. This would effectively remove from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), their ability to use these tools to manage and control the bear population. Some fear that a successful referendum would result in an even greater yearly increase in bear numbers. Such an increase could have devastating effects on the struggling deer population; bears feed on deer fawns in the spring. We should also realize that if the moose herd is also struggling, an overgrown population of bears will reduce recruitment of calf moose and add to the problems. Too many bears present a host of public safety issues.

With all of this in mind, what would a spruce budworm attack do to the bear population? Would the increased vegetation and berry production, most always found in newly stripped out forests, create a spike in the bear population? Would there be a negative effect or none at all?

There are, of course, other issues to discuss concerning the predicted outbreak, i.e. what the environmental movement is going to have to say?; who pays for what to battle this infestation, to name a couple.

Mr. Wagner suggests that Maine start preparing now for the upcoming event. He’s probably right but how do you plan against this attack unless many of these questions were answered back in the 70s and 80s?