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My Turn: Changing climate is baking moose to death

If you plan to be one of the 13,000 applicants in the late-May New Hampshire moose lottery draw, you might be thinking of baked moose as a delicious recipe if you are successful in the draw and on your hunt.

But that is not what New Hampshire moose biologist Kris Rines described at the March Fish and Game Commission meeting. For her, our too-warm winters and way-too-hot summers of late have been a recipe for a disaster for our moose. In fact, our changing climate is baking our moose to death.

That’s right. In just the past five years, due to unseasonably warm temperatures in both winter and summer, moose numbers have plummeted some 40 percent, from more than 7,500 moose to about 4,500 today.

And along with the moose, moose hunters have taken a hit too, with moose hunting permit numbers ratcheted down from 675 in 2007 to just 275 in 2012. That’s a 60 percent reduction brought on by the declining moose numbers. Rines looked the commissioners in the eyes at the conclusion of her presentation and said, “You can expect a dramatic further cut in moose hunting permit numbers for next year, given the current situation.”

Rines had explained to the commission just how complex a situation a warming New Hampshire presents to our moose. It really is a threefold disaster.

First, the too-hot summers are causing our cow (female) moose to feed less. Summer temperatures above 57 degrees begin to stress moose. They begin panting at 68 degrees and stop feeding and lie down at 79 degrees. This has led to underweight moose numbers increasing the past five years at the biological check station each fall. Yearling moose, first-time breeders, must be at least 440 pounds to successfully bare calves the next spring.

Adults, two years and older, typically give birth to twin calves if their fall weights are at least 550 pounds. Many of our cows have been under these weights the last few falls. So our moose cows are producing fewer calves than they did a decade ago.

Second, our too-mild winters are devastating our moose with a spike in winter tick numbers. As Rines put it, “If a female winter tick ready to lay her eggs falls off the moose in April on top of snow, the ticks don’t survive. But if they fall onto bare ground, they thrive.” So it is the length of time snow is on the ground going into spring that determines the tick load of the moose the next winter.

Now, take the winter of 2010, which was mild with an early spring. Rines figures that in the following, more normal winter, with extremely high tick numbers, all the calves born the previous spring died and at least 40 percent of the adults died due to an extremely high tick infestation. So we now have a double-barreled loss of calves: fewer being born and an extremely high mortality following a mild winter.

Lastly Rines talked about the mild winter weather causing an increase in deer numbers, which brings about more moose mortality in the form of brain worm disease. You see, deer survive just fine with brain worms, but the disease is fatal to moose. So warmer winters means more deer, resulting in still fewer moose.

And this is happening all across North America, Rines explained. From New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to the east to Michigan, Minnesota, Ontario and out west to Utah, moose are on the decline due to a warming world.

Most of us think of climate change as something someone else is going to have to worry about in the future.

For the moose, that future began five years ago.

(Eric Orff of Epsom is the New Hampshire Fish and Game commissioner for Merrimack County and a consultant to the National Wildlife Federation.)

Legacy Comments16

Well only as a personal observation, I know that in the early 70's and 80's we had man;y more nights of below zero temps. My pipes would freeze and door hinges would ice up. They would last for days at a time, not just a quick overnight. We have plants in our yard that should die out over winter and they don't. Some people just have a knee-jerk reaction to any talk of climate change. That is just how they are

Nice article. Those interested in the science of climate change, including a graph of the change in CO2 levels, and a graph of the rise in temperature as a direct result of rising CO2 levels, can start with a visit this NASA site.

A FACT TO PONDER: The planet is no longer warming. The brief warming episode of the late 20th century completed its course in the mid 1990s, and is now extinct. These are now uncontroversial statements.

Paste this link from a professional statistician into your browser to see why this oft-made claim is cherry-picked bunkum.

That link is a left wing blog and honestly he uses the word "denier" and I stopped reading at that stage. I design PowerPoint slides with graphs and when I want something to look extreme or make a statement it is easy to do so with a graph. Most of the time they prove nothing.

Of course you stopped reading. If you'd actually looked at the data there, you'd have been confronted with intolerable cognitive dissonance. There's nothing wrong with the graphs--they accurately show trends of Arctic ice loss, and climate warming.

this is from the Head of the UN IPCC - International Panel on Climate Control........IPCC Railroad engineer Pachauri acknowledges ‘No warming for 17 years’....for readers that want the truth paste this link into your browser and read the real record......

Your post is based on sloppy journalism from a Rupert Murdoch-owned Australian scandal sheet that routinely distorts the facts on climate science, and which then gets parroted by the various denier sources--like WUWT. The original article never quoted Pachauri directly, and its claim is not supported by the facts on global warming. If you look at the graph of temperature shown here: you can see how deniers pick and choose their start/stop intervals to make their false claim that warming has stopped. 1997-98 was an El Nino year--the strongest in 50 years, and the extra ocean heat that came to the surface in the eastern Pacific contributed to making 1997 extraordinarily warm. Deniers use this exceptional year as their start--using the annual mean, then select which of several different temperature records best suits their purpose (e.g.: Japanese, or HadCru, or NASA-GISS), to show a plateau of as much as 17 years. But that "plateau" is strictly an artifact of playing games with the data on surface temperatures. In fact, it works best if one switches from annual mean to 5 year average on the NASA-GISS chart. But it's bad math and dishonest science--like comparing apples and oranges. In fact, 9 of the 12 warmest years on record have occurred this decade. Anyone can play with the data in this manner--go to the site titled "Wood for Trees" and experiment. But however you do, and no matter what you do, the overall temperature trend is still upward. Incidentally, Pachauri has a Ph.D in Industrial Engineering and Economics--and once worked for the Indian RR system, but that doesn't make him a "railroad engineer" in the ordinary sense of the term.

OH MY GOD! Everyone, please stop driving your cars, buying any products from a factory that emits any CO2, and breath shallow. Good thing chickens are OK, Chicken Little is still screaming: "the sky is falling". What a bunch of propaganda and glo"bull" warming bunk. Are we saying that Moose can only thrive in an environment that varies in temperature 11 degrees? There have been many years warmer than this year and last and moose seem to be doing fine in those years. Does the climate change drumbeat ever stop????

Here's a link to a "Scientific American" article on the decline of the moose population in Mn. for those interested in the science, rather than just the obligatory drumbeat of denier nonsense. It elaborates on the role of ticks in weakening moose, and details the brain worm life cycle.

I read the article. I also know that the moose population was almost non existent in NH a little over 100 years ago. There was nothing for them to eat. They have rebounded quite well since the 70's. Forest management being the key. I believe forest fires are natures best way of producing a good habitat for moose. The chainsaw is the second best. You can add this to your repertoire.

Re: "They have rebounded quite well since the 70's". Until recently that is, as the Monitor piece and the SA article document.

Great column Eric. This global warming, while great for deer and turkeys, is terrible for moose. I cannot imagine what it's like to suffer infestations of ticks year-round. P.S. pushing all the snow from within 100 yards of your house and piling it up in a big pile under some pine or hemlock trees in a shady spot so it will last longer than it would naturally does not count.

I live in Meredith. We got 2-3 inches of new snow Fri nite/Sat morning. On top of the snow already there. That new stuff pretty much melted by this morning...but not the rest. Besides..its on top of the leach field. I don't know of anyone that plows snow onto their leach field. Especially if you dont have a plow.

If a tick falls off a moose in my backyard today, it will die. 8 inches of snow out there.

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