How to catch 8 moose a day? Use a helicopter

  • A member of the team from the company Native Range counts ticks on a moose near the town of Success on Jan. 8. Courtesy of NH Fish and Game

  • —NH Fish and GameA member of the team from the company Native Range weighs a moose calf near the town of Success on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017. —NH Fish and Game

  • A moose, blindfolded to keep it calm, being tested and collared on Jan. 8, 2017, near Success, N.H. —NH Fish and Game

Monitor staff
Published: 1/21/2017 10:10:16 PM

Not much can stop biologists when they set out to track and collar moose.

Since 2014, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department had contracted with Native Range Capture Services, a Nevada-based company specializing in using helicopters to track and capture animals.

The study is being done in partnership with Vermont and Maine, who are using the same crew to collect similar information to better understand the continued moose population decline across Northern New England.

“The team is very focused and extremely accurate,” said Kristine Rines, leader of New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s moose project. “The only things that can slow them down are wind and really bad precipitation.”

The team uses a helicopter and net gun to put radio collars and ear tags on moose cows and calves, keeping track of their progress and health during the year, as well as collect samples of blood, feces and ticks, and also weigh the calves. The success rate varies by trip, but Rines said the team can usually collar around eight moose per day.

In New Hampshire, the iconic animal’s population has fallen in less than a decade from about 7,500 to below 4,000.

“We started seeing changes in mortality and productivity in the northern part of the state,” Kent Gustafson, fish and game’s wildlife programs administrator said. “It’s appearing that winter tick is the primary cause, but the ticks are being influenced by a number of factors as well.”

Winter ticks are worse in the northern part of the state, where moose density is at its highest. Warmer winters are allowing ticks to survive at higher rates, to the point where thousands or even tens of thousands of ticks live on a single animal, causing anemia and weakness. Fatality rates for calves, weakened by the ticks, have been found to be as high as 75 percent.

While winter tick does not seem to be as much of a problem in southern New Hampshire, other parasitic challenges to moose are more prevalent in the southern tier, particularly a disease called brainworm, which is carried by deer.

“Our changing climate is definitely increasing parasite involvement, especially in animals that originated as northern-based species,” Rines said. “We’re going to have to recognize that things are going to change. Our only object here is to try and maintain moose for as long as possible in what is going to be a dramatically changing climate.”

While the future of moose in New Hampshire remains up in the air, biologists remain confident that moose will not disappear entirely from the woods of New Hampshire any time soon.

“Certainly it seems like moose will be able to survive into the future,” Gustafson said. “It just may not be the same as it has been in the past.”

Information gathered will be analyzed in partnership with the University of New Hampshire graduate students.

This year’s capture and tag operation started earlier this month and is likely to be the final year of data collection for fish and game’s study. Project leaders are considering adding one more year to the program to more accurately compare data with Vermont.

Vermont’s moose population is actually increasing, officials said. This population variation will allow researchers to contrast the findings between the two states, and better help understand moose population dynamics.


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