By DAN TUOHY
New Hampshire Union Leader
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January 20. 2014 10:17PM

NH to use helicopters to track moose


One of New Hampshire's 4,500 moose strikes a pose. The state's moose population is declining and scientists want to know why. (UNION LEADER FILE PHOTO)

Just one moose was spotted during the 22nd annual North Country Moose Festival's sight-seeing tour. The popular festival usually has a moose meat cook-off, too, but last year was the first time organizers could not get the requisite protein.

A couple of anecdotes do not make a pattern, but they do add to the concern that something's amiss with the state's moose population.

Researchers are now hunting for clues. Northern New Hampshire residents may hear helicopters over the next two weeks as experts track moose and attach GPS collars to them as part of a $695,000 study of moose mortality and productivity.

It is a four-year cooperative study between the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and the University of New Hampshire.

"If we lost that animal, it could have a devastating effect on the North Country," said Jonathan Brown, president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, which runs the Moose Festival every fourth weekend in August.

He provided the above anecdotes from the 2013 event.

Fish and Game notes that moose are not on the verge of disappearing, but ticks and changing weather patterns are threatening the population.

Moose are declining; the state's moose herd is an estimated 4,500, according to Fish and Game.

The study will track 80 to 100 radio-collared moose cows and calves. Besides the winter tick as a factor in increased mortality, researchers will work to identify other culprits, including parasites.

"We hope to find out if natural mortality has increased since a similar study was done about 10 years ago," Kristine Rines, a moose biologist with New Hampshire Fish and Game, said in a news release announcing the low-flying helicopter flights to begin the tracking component. "We'll look 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."

The state contracted with Aero Tech to track the moose and use net guns and tranquilizer darts to capture and collar them.

The flight area includes Berlin, Cambridge, Dummer, Errol, Milan, Millsfield and Success. The core of the study area is within the Androscoggin River watershed, according to the contract. The study is federally funded.

Moose equals money for New Hampshire.

The animal generates around $300,000 each year for the Fish and Game Department, which is used for wildlife management, enforcement and staffing. The annual moose hunt, for which permits are distributed by lottery, has seen a decline in the number of permits available in recent years. Fish and Game reports 675 permits were given out in 2007, while 275 were distributed in 2012 and 2013.

The annual economic expenditure related to New Hampshire wildlife-watching exceeds $250 million, according to an estimate given to the Executive Council when it approved the $695,000 study last July.

Moose can be found in every county, but the state's largest land mammal holds a certain power in northern New Hampshire.

Brown, at the North Country Chamber of Commerce, refers to the moose as an unofficial mascot.

"The moose, the majestic animal that it is, is certainly an important piece of our natural resources up here," he said.

dtuohy@unionleader.com


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