N.H. moose hunt lottery is the smallest ever, as moose population struggles

  • This year, 71 people will be allowed to buy a moose hunting permit in New Hampshire. That’s down drastically since the 2007 peak of 675 permits. The size of the moose hunt has been scaled back, as warm winters have led to an explosive increase in tick numbers. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 6/18/2016 11:57:37 PM

New Hampshire on Friday celebrated its annual moose hunt lottery, but in an indication of bad news piling up about the effect of winter ticks on our moose population, it was the smallest such event since the lottery began three decades ago.

Fish and Game on Friday named the 71 winners who can buy hunting permits for the 2016 moose hunt, which runs Oct. 15 to 23.

People from Concord, Penacook, Bow and Warner – as well as every corner of the state, plus a few out-of-staters – were picked from 8,116 applicants, a sign of the continuing interest in the chance of hunting an animal that can top half a ton. (The biggest moose ever shot in New Hampshire tipped the scales at 1,400 pounds.)

Further, this number of applications doesn’t count the more than 1,400 people who submitted an application for a bonus point only, to improve their chance of winning the lottery in future years.

Winners will be offered permits to hunt moose in a specific part of the state, which is divided up into what are known as Wildlife Management Units. The state has 22 WMUs, and being assigned to a good unit such as those north of the Notches can greatly increase chances of success. Permit winners can enlist a guide and one friend to hunt with them.

Despite the excitement and fun of choosing the names of winners, the number of permits is one-third less than last year’s tally of 105 and only about one-ninth the figure of 2007, when a peak of 675 permits were issued.

The size of the moose hunt has been scaled back since then, as warm winters have led to an explosive increase in tick numbers, to the point that it’s not uncommon for an adult moose to be carrying 10,000 ticks. The resulting blood loss, anemia and disease is taking a toll: The state’s moose population has fallen by almost half in a decade, to about 4,000.

A presentation given Thursday in Lancaster by Dan Ellingwood, a University of New Hampshire graduate student who is part of an ongoing state study of moose health, underscored the issue. He said that radio monitoring of 36 moose calves found that a staggering 80.5 percent of them died in their first year – the highest percentage ever recorded.

“We don’t believe moose are anywhere near disappearing from the landscape. If we have long and tough enough winters that could knock ticks down and stabilize the moose population,” Ellingwood said, according to press reports. “The most likely scenario is the population will stabilize at a lower density.”

Moose, which evolved further north where ticks are less common, do not groom ticks off themselves as well as deer do. Whitetailed deer populations in New Hampshire have not been affected by ticks.

The moose hunt lottery began in 1998 as the moose population rebounded after years of conservation efforts. That first year, 75 hunting permits were given out, a figure that was increased most years, as it didn’t seem to hurt the moose population.

New Hampshire had fewer than 100 moose in the 1950s, when conservation efforts kicked off. By the late 1990s, the population was more than 7,000.

The population has fallen sharply to perhaps 4,000 today, roughly the number when the moose hunt was reinstated in 1989.

This decline has echoed throughout the Northeast and upper Midwest, although other diseases, notably brainworm, are also at fault.

This decline is affecting moose hunts. Vermont cut the number of moose permits this year by 40 percent next year to 160, while Maine, where the population is relatively healthy, is also cutting back. Minnesota ended its moose hunt two years ago and Wisconsin has cut back its hunt sharply.

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

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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