AUGUSTA — State wildlife biologists propose reducing moose permits by less than 3 percent for the coming season after cutting the number almost in half over the previous three years.

All but three of Maine’s 24 hunting districts would be spared any cuts. Those three, in the midcoast region, will have no permits issued because hunting success, and the number of moose-vehicle collisions, have both fallen. Last year, the three districts (numbers 23, 25 and 26) accounted for just 60 of Maine’s 2,140 moose permits.

If approved by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Advisory Council in April, the number of statewide moose permits would drop to 2,080 – the lowest since 2,000 permits were issued in 1998.

The number of moose permits issued fell from 4,085 in 2013 to 2,140 last year – largely because of concerns about moose survival rates because of winter-tick infestation.

Judy Camuso, Maine Wildlife Division director, said Wednesday that the state’s moose population has appeared healthy this winter. None of the 73 calves in the radio-collar moose study have died this season, according to Maine moose biologist Lee Kantar.

But winter-tick mortality becomes most apparent in March and April, so the permit proposal could change by the time the advisory council votes on the permits in April, Kantar said.

In the three midcoast hunting districts – which extend roughly from Augusta to Ellsworth and south from Pittsfield and Old Town to the coast – hunter success has gone down.

Statewide, on average about 80 percent of moose hunters are successful each year, according to state data.

From 2011 to 2015, the most recent data available, the highest success in District 23 was 16 percent in 2014, the highest in District 25 was 24 percent in 2013, and the highest in District 26 was 18 percent in 2011. Success rates were sometimes lower than 10 percent in the three districts – in 2015, no one in District 26 bagged a moose.

“There is such a low success rate in these districts, and there are frustrated people hunting there, the biologists felt the goal to bring the population down to reduce automobile collisions was achieved,” Camuso said.

Moose hunters had mixed views on the loss of permits in the three hunting zones.

Hunter Tom Leavitt of Falmouth said most hunters prefer to go up north anyway because there are more moose there.

“I think the department of fish and game probably knows what they’re doing,” Leavitt said.

And Lonnie Humphrey of New Gloucester said it makes sense to eliminate hunting districts where the success rates are so low.

However, Emery Pelletier, a hunter of 50 years from Eagle Lake who has been on 12 moose hunts including one in the midcoast, said the hunt in the southern districts is valuable because it allows more hunters the opportunity to stalk moose.

“I’m not sure that makes sense. It brings in revenue to that area,” Pelletier said. “When we hunted (in Knox), we spent money on food and lodging. And having those zones increases people’s chances of a getting a permit, where they might not get a permit otherwise.”

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

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