AUGUSTA — For the second consecutive year, state biologists have proposed increasing the number of moose permits in the fall hunt. The increases follow a four-year stretch when the number of permits was slashed 49 percent, largely because the winter tick parasite was killing so many moose.

At the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Advisory Council meeting Thursday, biologists proposed expanding the number of moose permits by 11 percent to 2,820 – with most of the additional permits allotted in northern Maine, an area the biologists call the state’s core moose habitat. The state issued 2,523 permits last year.

Maine state moose biologist Lee Kantar said biologists believe winter ticks took less of a toll on moose calves last winter than in past years. Their assessment is based on the results of the state’s radio-collar study, now in its sixth year. Of the 75 moose calves affixed with radio collars last winter, just four died. All four calf fatalities occurred in the western zone of the study around Greenville – not in the northern zone at the tip of Maine.

Kantar added that the number of twin calves state biologists have seen has declined, leading biologists to speculate that winter ticks may be hurting the reproductive rate of cows.

The size of Maine’s moose population is not driven by how many moose are killed by hunters, Kantar said, but by the incidence of parasites and disease, as well as by the productivity of cow moose.

“In the core range, we feel we need to be more strategic to how we give moose permits,” he said. “This year, there was lower reproduction in moose in some parts of the state. Winter tick does not kill cows, it kills calves. But winter tick does put enough pressure on cows that are carrying a fetus, and not all the calves survive.”

According to state biologists, moose are thriving in the northern half of the state, specifically in the wildlife management districts north of Springfield, Millinocket, Greenville and Carrabassett Valley and in Wildlife Management District 19, in the area of Washington County north of Route 9 and east of Springfield and Aurora.

The state’s moose population was last estimated in a 2012 aerial survey at roughly 76,000. State biologists now estimate it is between 50,000 and 70,000.

Advisory council chair Don Dudley of Patten asked what effect the deep snow this spring has on moose calves. The snowbanks in Aroostook County remain as high as 16 feet in some places, according to member Dick Fortier of Caribou.

When there is significant snow accumulation, moose behave as deer do in deep snow – they stay put, Kantar replied.

“Their home range is the size of this room,” he said. “Right now they’re relying on what they ate in the fall.”

The number of moose hunting permits proposed Thursday is preliminary; it will be assessed in May. Because deep snow in northern Maine still has moose hemmed in to small areas, winter survival can’t yet be fully assessed. But biologists hope that the incidence of winter tick is lower because snow came early last fall and the parasite thrives in warmer climates and conditions. Climate change has been blamed for its spread.

“The fall conditions drive the winter tick,” Kantar said. “Our expectation is that the tick count will be down, and that should translate into increased calf survival. But we’ll have to see what happens.”

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

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