A state biologist says new data from Maine’s moose-collar study shows encouraging signs in an area of the state where moose have been ravaged for years by parasitic winter ticks.

Lee Kantar, Maine’s moose biologist, told a state committee Tuesday that only two of the 69 moose calves collared in Wildlife Management District 4 in northwestern Maine have died this winter. That compares to 61 of 70 collared calves who died in the study area last year because of winter tick infestation. Based on this year’s early data, the mortality rate plunged from 87% to less than 3%.

Kantar stressed the findings are preliminary, and it’s too soon to tell how moose in the study will fare this year because winter mortality in moose calves in northern Maine typically continues into April, until after the snowpack is gone. But on Tuesday he was cautiously optimistic.

“This is really weird. Normally we would expect quite a bit of mortality in March and then it really goes up in April,” Kantar said in an address to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Advisory Council.

Kantar’s report came at a meeting where biologists proposed a 2% increase in moose permits in the fall to 4,155. Most of the additional 75 permits would be allocated in WMD 4, near the Quebec border and just west of Baxter State Park. Biologists are trying to determine if increasing the moose harvest in the district may lead to a healthier herd by providing fewer hosts for winter ticks. IFW is entering the third year of the study.

Last fall was the first time since biologists started fall tick counts in 2006 that they noted a low tick count on harvested moose at tagging stations. Biologists check about 180 tagged moose for ticks each fall, Kantar said. 


“That’s a predictor – a predictor of what spring mortality looks like in the spring,” Kantar said of ticks on tagged moose. 

Maine has the highest density of moose in the contiguous United States, but the estimate in 2019 of 60,000 to 70,000 was down from 76,000 in 2012.

Winter ticks have devastated moose herds from Maine to Minnesota and as far north as Alberta, Canada. At first, Maine biologists tried to combat the rise in the parasite by decreasing permits – by as much as 25% in 2014. But in recent years, state biologists decided to try to prove the theory that if the moose population is reduced, it will minimize the transmission of winter tick and help moose in Maine thrive.

In 2014, Maine biologists started collaring moose around Moosehead Lake in the first moose-collar study in Maine, one similar to studies done in New Hampshire and Minnesota. The results of earlier radio-collar studies typically have been grim.

In the first year of the study at Moosehead Lake, in the spring of 2014, 22 of 30 (73%) collared calves died. In 2015, 21 of 35 (60%) died.

The recent study enters the third of five years in northwestern Maine. State biologists on Tuesday recommended increasing the number of moose permits in WMD 4 from 550 to 600.


Maine birding guide Bob Duchesne, a member of the advisory council, said he hopes the next three years of the study bear the same results.

“Certainly Lee would say that one year is one data point and one year is not a trend,” Duchesne said. “It’s encouraging. I think the biologists put their finger on it that the density of moose in some areas means the ticks can more easily transmit around. And if the trend continues with a warming climate, the ticks are not going away.”

Many guides and sportsmen were skeptical when IFW first proposed the new study, said Mike Hickey, a registered Maine guide who works out of a sporting camp on the Aroostook River in the fall.

“We’re all in tune with how the permits are divided. It’s a big part of our industry. When they said they were giving out a ton of permits to Zone 4 with the theory that decreasing the moose population would kill off the ticks, people were divided,” Hickey said. “I didn’t have a strong belief either way. I think moose hunting is good for the economy. Moose hunting is such a big thing in Maine. People come from around the country, the world for it.”

But Hal Blood, a registered Maine guide from Jackman, who’s guided moose hunters in WMD 4 for 25 years, said he thought the state should have tried to cull the herd even before the recent study.

“It was common sense to me, logical. You have to lower the moose herd for the ticks to go away,” Blood said. “The less moose obviously the less that can carry the ticks. So it’s good news, if it went from 61 to two, that’s pretty remarkable. I would say it’s got to be due to giving out all those (moose) tags.”

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