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Not a lot of business at Hillsboro check station as New Hampshire moose hunt gets smaller

Last modified: 10/21/2015 1:25:43 AM
If you want to know what health problems with the state’s moose population looks like, check out the state highway barn on Route 9 in Hillsboro.

The barn is one of six check stations during the nine-day moose hunting season, where hunters are legally required to bring the dressed carcass of their moose for it to be registered. Last weekend, which served as opening weekend of the season, was the busiest time. But it saw just four moose brought in: two cows and two bulls.

That small number isn’t a surprise, however, because in the hunting regions around Hillsboro, known as wildlife management units, a total of just six permits were issued after this year’s lottery. The lottery gave out of 105 hunting permits total, but each one is for a specific wildlife management unit and cannot be used elsewhere.

The number of permits for killing moose has been sharply curtailed over the past several years because health problems, including a brain parasite and an overload of ticks, are cutting the size of the state’s herd.

“For the number of permits that are out there, four is pretty good,” said Dan Bergeron, a wildlife biologist for New Hampshire Fish and Game, at the Hillsboro check station on Tuesday.

This year, the state issued 105 moose hunting permits, down from 124 last year and 275 the year before, and less than one-fifth the number of the peak year of 2007, when 675 permits were issued via lottery.

New Hampshire is hardly alone. Both Maine and Vermont have also sharply cut the number of moose hunt permits, while Minnesota eliminated its moose hunt entirely two years ago because the population in that state was virtually wiped out by disease.

The Hillsboro check station has a hanging scale to weigh carcasses, built from old telephone poles. Hunters have to take their kill to such stations for registration, and so the state can collect data about the health of the herd.

The biggest moose brought in to Hillsboro so far was 700 pounds when field dressed, meaning with its internal organs removed, or close to 850 pounds live weight.

The successful hunters were from the New Hampshire towns of Claremont, Weare and Temple, and from Clinton, Okla., Bergeron said.

The moose hunt continues through Sunday.

The reduction in hunting permits has happened reluctantly because the hunt is very popular – almost 10,000 people from across the country applied to get one of this year’s permits – and lucrative, bringing in millions of dollars over the years to support the Fish and Game department.

It took place because the state’s moose population has dropped by an estimated 40 percent, from 7,500 to 4,500, due to health problems, partly a parasite called brainworm, but mostly due to an explosion in the population of winter ticks. The winter tick population has increased due in part to shorter winters.

Moose, unlike deer, did not evolve in areas where winter ticks were prevalent, so they have not learned the habit of regular grooming to remove ticks, as deer do.

This has become a problem as ticks have shifted their population northward. It’s not unusual these days to find an adult moose with thousands, even 10,000, ticks feeding on it.

This can kill even an adult moose by causing anemia or by making the itchy animal scratch itself against trees to the point that it rubs off so much of its thick, dark hair coat that it looks lighter in color – becoming what is known as a “ghost moose” – and can no longer survive cold weather.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, dbrooks@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)


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