With few permits issued, closing moose hunt wouldn’t result in rebound of N.H. Moose population

Last modified: 4/6/2015 12:27:18 AM
There might be fewer hunters in New Hampshire fields and forests tracking moose this fall than at any point in the past 24 years.

Declining moose population has prompted the state Department of Fish and Game to propose a reduction from 124 permits in 2014 to 105 this year. The decrease continues a precipitous drop in the number of permits since 2007, when the state issued 675.

It’s a familiar pattern seen in nearby Maine and Vermont, where the reduction in moose hunting applications have been even greater.

But those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

This year, Vermont, which has about 2,400 moose, will issue 225 regular moose hunting permits. Meanwhile, Maine, the Mecca for New England moose with a herd between 60,000 and 70,000, will issue 2,815 permits, a 10 percent dip from last year.

While all three states are decreasing the number of hunters as moose population declines, the ratios vary widely.

To put those figures another way, Vermont sends out one hunter for every 10 moose, Maine sends out one hunter for every 23 moose, while New Hampshire sends out one hunter for every 38 moose.

Despite New Hampshire issuing the fewest permits of the northern New England states, some have suggested having a brief moratorium on the moose hunting season to give the herd a chance to rebound after a period of population decline.

But suspending moose hunting in the state wouldn’t do much to help New Hampshire moose rebound, state officials said.

Even if every New Hampshire moose hunter is successful and bags his or her big game, that would account for only 2.5 percent of the state’s moose population.

“My prediction is (the population) will do what it’s going to do regardless of hunting pressure,” said Kristine Rines, the Moose Project leader at Fish and Game. “Hunting isn’t what’s causing this decline – it’s parasites.”

For years, an explosion of winter ticks have been feasting on moose, leading to high mortality rates that have alarmed biologists. As the herd has dwindled, the number of hunting permits has decreased.

While parasites like winter ticks have hit the Maine herd hard in recent years, the cut in permits for 2015 has more to do with the state wildlife department reaching its moose population goals in many parts of the state, said moose biologist Lee Kantar.

New Hampshire has held its annual moose hunt since 1988, when 75 permits were issued for a three-day hunt in the North Country. At its peak in 2007, the state received 16,779 moose lottery applications and issued 675 permits. The number of applications – and permits – have declined in the last five years.

The state has six moose management areas, and in some of the areas they are more likely to be killed by a car than a hunter. As an example, Rines used the central region that includes Concord, which is home to about 700 moose. Ten permits are recommended for this year, with a 60 percent success rate.

“The number of permits is so minuscule,” she said. “We’ve just seen this pretty steady decline in population in the face of consistent permit reductions.”

For researchers, the annual harvest is an important tool to gather information about the physical condition of moose.

For everyone else, a chance to hunt the iconic species is a unique opportunity, and one worth paying for. Moose lottery application and permit sales totaled $256,740 last year, down from $332,100 in 2013 because there were fewer applications and permits issued.

Fish and Game is in the process of updating its management plan, which could look at suspended permit issuances in some moose management regions.

“Hunting isn’t leading to the decline of the moose population,” said Corey Ellis, president of the New England Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

Generally, the hunters Ellis has talked to say they respect the findings of the biologists, he said.

“It’s hard to imagine a hunter saying they’d rather have 10 more permits next year and have no moose. I would certainly hope not, anyway,” he said.

Researchers and hunters aren’t the only people paying attention to the moose population. Elwyn Wheaton, owner of North Country Moose Safari, says his livelihood is directly tied to the animals.

“In my opinion, the idea people can now drive around New Hampshire and find moose is part of history,” he said. “Now it makes more sense to spend the money and take a moose tour in order to see moose.”

He runs tours from May to October and last year saw moose on 78 of 81 tours.

“The real issue is, what will it be like five years from now?” he said.

Biologists are in the midst of a three-year study to assess winter ticks and other threats to the health and production of moose.

The season has brought some optimism on the winter tick front, Rines said. Winter ticks usually start falling off the animals in March to lay their eggs, which means they’re falling into the snow this year.

“If they fall off and land on snow, they typically don’t do very well and productivity is nipped in the bud,” Rines said. “This should mean next fall there will be fewer ticks.”

The public hearing on the moose permit reductions (and a proposal to ban chocolate as bear bait) is scheduled for Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the state Fish and Game Department on Hazen Drive in Concord.



(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com or on Twitter@iainwilsoncm.)




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