Maybe as much as the beloved Old Man of the Mountain, the moose is a New Hampshire icon. In fact, both are featured on our license plates. Despite growing concerns that the moose could disappear much as the Old Man did, Fish and Game’s moose project leader, Kristine Rines, said moose are not about to disappear from our landscape.
Rines, who is an SEA member, said there are fewer moose in the state, but recently reported figures have been incorrect.
“The peak population for moose in New Hampshire was in about 1996, when we had 7,600 moose in the state,” she said. “Currently our moose population stands at about 4,400 animals. The public set the goals for the moose population through a public participation process.”
Much of that downward trend came because people wanted fewer moose, and the primary reason for that, Rines said, was to lessen the number of moose-vehicle collisions.
“These encounters are now down to about 170 per year; from 1996 to 2002 the average number of moose killed by vehicles in New Hampshire was well above 200 (225-265 per year),” she said. “However, other forms of moose mortality appear to be on the increase.”
Those other forms of moose mortality are raising concerns, especially in the White Mountains and central N.H., Rines said.
“We believe these areas are likely being hit with the double whammy of both winter tick and brainworm (a parasite that deer can transmit, but are unaffected by),” she said.
Winter tick is becoming more of a problem here as our winters grow shorter, and snow arrives later and melts sooner.
“Based on research conducted from 2001-2006, we know that our northern moose experience occasional increased mortality from winter tick,” Rines said. “This mortality rate can change dramatically from year to year because of changes in snow pack. If we have a snow-free April followed by a snowless November, both tick numbers and moose mortality will increase. Even if ticks don’t kill the moose, cow moose with high tick loads may lose so much weight that their fertility is reduced. In the North and Connecticut Lakes Region we are seeing reduced body weights and reduced reproduction – mainly due to winter tick.”
If you’ve taken a trip up to the North Country recently and didn’t see any moose, it’s not necessarily because there are fewer moose there — in fact, the moose population in the North Country is at its goal. Instead, Rines said, it may just be that moose aren’t being drawn to roadsides.
“Moose Alley in Coos County is a perfect example; there, salt use on the road has been reduced and salt licks have been purposefully drained, and the roadside browse has grown out of reach of moose,” she said. “So now fewer moose are being attracted to roadside browse and salt licks where they are most visible.”
With the annual moose hunt approaching, Rines noted that as the moose population has fallen below goals in some areas, so too have the number of hunting permits. Fish and Game will look at population numbers this fall to see how the reduction in permits affects the population.
“If permit reductions do not work, things could change appreciably in the future,” she said. “We still have this fall’s moose hunt and observation data to review before those recommendations are made, however. 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.”
Beyond that, Rines said the state is partnering with UNH for a long-term study of the mortality rates and causes in the moose population.
“We want to know if mortality is being caused by winter tick or other factors,” she said. “These answers will inform future management decisions.”
“Things are going to change year by year, and we’ll have to adjust our approach accordingly,” Rines said. “New Hampshire moose are in decline in many of our management regions but they are not going to be gone tomorrow. 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.”
You can read more about the state’s plan to maintain the moose population here: http://www.wildnh.com/Hunting/Hunting_PDFs/NH_Big_Game_Plan_FINAL.pdf.