Biologist: Moose on decline, but not on verge of disappearing
New Hampshire residents, including those who keep an eye on the tourist economy, are worried about moose.
Visitors like to see them, but the moose count — estimated now at 4,440 — is declining. Seventeen years ago, it was 7,600.
The wildlife biologist who has for years headed New Hampshire's Moose Project, acknowledges the iconic large animals are under siege from a combination of forces.
Kristine Rines, whose main focus with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department since 1985 has been on all issues concerning moose, isn't about to give up on the beasts, though they're tormented by ticks, trucks, brain worm and weather.
"While New Hampshire's regional moose populations are indeed facing some serious threats, they are not on the verge of disappearing from the Granite State landscape," Rines said last week.
The health of the state's moose has been a steady topic of conversation for several years. The discussion always gathers steam as the annual October moose hunt, begun in 1988, approaches.In a presentation with Rines, Fish and Game administrators last week distributed a lengthy statement that sought to cover the spectrum of issues related to moose.
One factor in the decline not often mentioned is that when polled several years ago, people generally thought there should be fewer moose roaming the state.
"Why? ... to reduce moose-vehicle collisions," Rines said.
That was a factor in helping state officials determine how may tickets to make available for the moose-hunt lottery.
From 1996 to 2002, the number of moose killed by vehicles in the state each year ranged from 225 to 265. It's now about 170, she said."We've gone from 675 permits to 275 permits issued in 2012-13. While we won't know until this fall how the population is faring as a result of this most recent permit reduction, current information suggests that New Hampshire's moose population may continue to decline in some regions," Rines said. "We will continue to monitor our moose population closely; if it keeps declining, we will reduce permits accordingly in an effort to maintain moose on our landscape."
Weather is a large factor in the proliferation of the winter ticks that besiege moose.
"In New Hampshire, our winters are growing shorter, snow arrives later and melts earlier," said Rines, who in the past year pointed to a sharp increase in ticks found on moose, from a five-figure number per animal to more than 150,000 in some cases.
"Even if ticks don't kill the moose, cow moose with high tick loads may lose so much weight that their fertility is reduced," she said.
Minnesota has ended its moose hunt due to declining herd populations, and Rines said Maine, as well as other states, Nova Scotia, Canadian provinces on the southern edge of moose range have all seen drops in moose counts, similar to those in the Granite State.
"It's clear that we need to learn more about the causes of moose mortality," she said, adding that wildlife officials hope much can be accomplished through a combined $700,000 research effort between Fish and Game and the University of New Hampshire, using Federal Wildlife money.
"Over a two-year period, we will place radio collars on 80 to 90 adult moose cows and calves. A helicopter wildlife crew will capture and collar the animals. We will track the collared animals for four years, monitoring them for as long as the collars keep transmitting.
"We'll be looking at how long the individuals live, and when they die, we'll try to get there as soon as possible to determine cause of death. This research will help us determine what the mortality rate and causes are at this time. These answers will inform future management decisions," Rines said.
"The fact of the matter is that we don't know what the future holds, but we're hopeful that a combination of research and management efforts will allow us to do all we can to secure the future of New Hampshire's invaluable moose resources," she said.