Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ticks reduce moose population in northern states

By The Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine — Sportsmen hoping to bag a big moose are seeing increased competition from a tiny parasite that's cutting down moose populations in New England and across parts of the northern United States, prompting some states to offer hunters fewer permits or halt hunting altogether.

Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont are all issuing fewer moose hunting permits this year, citing the impact of winter ticks on their moose populations. In Minnesota, where ticks are among several factors that have cut the population by more than half in less than a decade, there will be no moose hunting season at all.

Thousands of ticks are sometimes found on a moose, and the parasites can bleed the animals and cause anemia and death.

“It's really that they bleed them dry,” said Lee Kantar, Maine's moose biologist.

Maine's moose season kicks off Monday, but the state is coming off a peak year for winter ticks, which have helped reduce the moose herd from 76,000 in 2012 to between 65,000 and 70,000, state officials said.

Maine reduced its number of moose permits from 4,110 in 2013 to 3,095 this year for a season in which more than 50,000 people, a typical number, applied for a permit. New Hampshire officials issued 124 permits — fewer than half of the 275 awarded in recent years — for the state's October season in the face of a decline in moose population from 7,600 in 1996 to about 4,400 now.

In Vermont, the moose population is estimated around 2,500, below the state's ideal range of 3,000 to 5,000. The state's moose herd topped out in 2008, when the state issued 1,255 hunting permits. This year it has issued 285, 70 fewer than a year ago, for its October hunt.

Minnesota's moose population, which suffers from predators and disease, has plummeted from 8,840 in 2006 to 2,760, according to state data. The state suspended hunting last year and is in the midst of a multi-year research initiative into possible methods to slow the decline.

The ticks occur in all North American moose populations except Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Alaska and far northern Canada, said Alberta-based biologist Bill Samuel, who added that the ticks are the “most important external pest of moose in North America.”
Many biologists tie the surge in tick-related moose deaths at least in part to warmer temperatures. Warm fall temperatures and early spring snowmelt improves conditions for winter ticks to thrive, biologists say. Samuel said more ticks survive to lay eggs when the early spring temperature is warm and the ground snow-free.

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