The annual Maine moose lottery this weekend in Oquossoc will be bigger than ever in a number of ways.

It’s the first time the host site will feature a three-day moose festival. And after a successful winter survey, state biologists can boast about a booming moose population, something on the order of 75,000.

Lee Kantar, a Maine moose biologist, conducted an aerial survey for the second straight winter, using a low-flying helicopter flown by the Maine Forest Service. Conditions were so exceptionally clear that Kantar was able to survey nine of the 12 hunting districts where moose roam in large numbers.

The result was an estimated 75,000 moose, which made Maine the first state to successfully use the fly-over technique to count and estimate a moose population, Kantar said.

“The technique of flying the helicopter is a statistically reliable technique. It gives us a finer level of detail than we had in the past. And conditions were perfect, with low wind. It’s a great success story,” Kantar said.

What the survey means for the future of the Maine moose hunt might be more permits in future years, although Kantar said Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife officials won’t rush to any decisions to put more hunters in the field.

This year 3,725 permits will be allotted, down slightly from the 3,862 awarded last year, which was the most ever.

The drawing begins at 4 p.m. at Oquossoc Marine in the village of Oquossoc.

Maine has far and away the largest moose population in the lower 48 states, and this past winter biologists proved it.

The last moose estimate in Montana reported 6,000 moose, while Wyoming reported 13,500 and Minnesota 12,000. Kantar said even if those states had double the number of moose, they don’t come close to Maine’s population.

The aerial survey numbers have not been released by IFW, but Kantar already has sent his research paper for publication to the Journal of Moose Management and Research, which is based in Ontario.

The survey collected a fine level of detail, including the gender of the moose. And in the nine hunting districts where the fly-over was done this winter, Kantar said the survey found 68,000 moose, with a margin of error of plus-or-minus 9 percent, which for wildlife population estimates is low.

“If you look at the (industry) standard, it’s a plus-or-minus 20 percent,” Kantar said.

He used past data to estimate the entire moose range at 75,000.

The survey was paid for with $36,000 earmarked by the Maine Legislature for big-game research.

But Kantar said next year it will be funded with an $8,000 grant from Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund and matching federal money.

The last population estimate in Maine was done more than 10 years ago, when the department estimated the moose population at 29,000.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: FlemingPph