A cow moose and calf run through the woods near Moosehead Lake in 2016. State biologists just concluded a seven-year moose-collaring study in the region. Gabe Souza/Staff photo

State biologists have proposed an 11-percent increase in moose permits for this fall’s hunt – along with an experimental hunting strategy in one area – to gauge whether reducing the moose herd would cut down on winter tick infestation, resulting in a healthier population.

The proposal would add 345 moose permits to the annual lottery, for a total of 3,480. Those additional permits would be spread across northern Maine in Wildlife Management Districts 1 through 9, an area reaching from the Rangeley Lakes region to the Moosehead Lake region and all areas west and north of Baxter State Park.

If approved by the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Advisory Council, the number of annual moose permits will have increased by 67 percent since 2017.

In addition, state biologists proposed a new adaptive-management hunt with 550 antlerless (cow) moose permits beyond the statewide total allocated in half of Wildlife Management District 4, west of Baxter State Park. The adaptive hunt would take place during the last two weeks of October and the first week of November.

Biological data – such as from a new radio-collar study, harvest totals and other sources – from the two parts of Zone 4 would be compared. The proposed study would last five years.

At a meeting of the IFW Advisory Council on Tuesday, Maine Moose Biologist Lee Kantar said state biologists hope to test whether reducing moose densities in half of District 4 will help reduce winter tick infestations there and, as a result, reduce mortality among moose, resulting in a healthier population. 

According to IFW, the abundance of winter ticks in northern Maine has stunted the moose population over the last decade by increasing mortality and reducing reproductive rates in females.

Maine still has the highest density of moose in the contiguous United States, but the estimated population of 60,000 to 70,000 is down from an estimated 76,000 in 2012.

The 550 antlerless-only permits would be issued after the initial lottery, and be given only to hunters who requested joining the new adaptive hunt. Those hunters would be asked to participate in a seminar explaining the adaptive hunt and how participation will cause them to forfeit their bonus lottery points, which hunters accrue every year they are not drawn in the lottery.

The IFW Advisory Council will vote on the two proposals by early June, before the moose lottery but after the council’s next meeting on May 4.

Kantar told the council in March that the seven-year radio-collar moose study in northern Maine showed winter ticks were the “primary mortality driver” for moose calves in Maine and that a warming climate exacerbated the problem. A University of Maine study has shown winter in northern Maine is now two weeks shorter than 30 years ago, Kantar said.

Tuesday he told the council that of the 70 moose calves collared in District 4 in January, 10 percent already have died. Most moose winter mortality occurs in April, he said.

Typically in North America, moose densities are about one animal per square mile, but in parts of far northern Maine there are five moose per square mile, according to IFW. In District 4 in northwestern Maine, densities are as high as eight moose per square mile, said Wildlife Division Director Nathan Webb.

Webb believes the adaptive hunt will help provide clues on how to manage for a healthy moose population in Maine.

“We do view the adaptive hunt as part of a broader effort to collect information,” Webb said. “So that if the hunt does show the reduced moose densities does help moose health and reduces winter tick, we can use it to explain to the public why we need to reduce moose densities.”

Maine isn’t the only northern New England state looking to reduce its moose population to see if it helps combat winter tick infestations.

In Vermont, biologists are proposing to issue nearly two times as many moose permits as last year in the northern-most hunting district – with 100 permits issued in the northeast corner of the state – the only place in the state that moose are now hunted.

By increasing the number of permits in Wildlife Management Unit E, Vermont state biologists hope to reduce moose densities from two moose per square mile to one per square mile to see if it will reduce the abundance of winter ticks.

Vermont’s moose population has declined from 5,000 statewide to about 2,000 in the past 20 years because of winter ticks, said Nick Fortin, Vermont moose biologist.

“We trust enough in this approach, we think it has a good chance of working, so we are going to go for it,” Fortin said.

Fortin added that while Vermont’s moose herd is a fraction of the size of Maine’s, what happens in Vermont will be instructive for Maine, and vice versa.

“In New England, we all work pretty closely together. In the end, it’s all one big moose population that is interconnected,” Fortin said.

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CORRECTION: This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. on March 25, 2021, to correct the number of moose permits to be issued in Vermont.  


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