Maine’s moose herd appears to have fared better this winter than last year, when widespread mortality caused by winter ticks led to a 25-percent decrease in moose-hunting permits.

As a result, the number of moose permits allocated this year will remain the same as recommended by state biologists in January: 2,815, to be distributed during a June 13 lottery in Bethel. That represents a 9 percent decrease from 2014, when 3,095 permits were allotted.

Just three of 35 adult moose (8 percent) in a radio-collar study died this winter, said Maine moose biologist Lee Kantar. That compares with 10 of 30 adult moose (33 percent) who died as part of the same study in 2014. This winter, 21 of 35 radio-collared calves died (or 60 percent), compared with 22 of 30 calves (73 percent) last year.

Kantar is cautiously optimistic about the survey results.

“It’s something,” said Kantar. “Hopefully we’ll make it this week without seeing (more evidence of mortality). Right now the snow is just about gone. Moose are able to go where they want. Hopefully they’ll be able to build up their protein reserves. Last year by May 1 the worst of winter was over.”

This marks the second year of the radio-collar study, which is being conducted in conjunction with a similar study in New Hampshire. Kantar said biologists in both states need more years of data to establish trends.

“It’s still not clear. You have to be careful. People feel if there are a lot of parasites that means there are too many animals on the landscape,” Kantar said. “That’s one basic way to look at it. On the other hand, there are other factors. The weather is very complicated when it comes to winter ticks.”

By contrast, New Hampshire reported an increase in moose mortality from last year.

New Hampshire lost 74 percent of the calves (20 of 27) collared in the study compared to 64 percent (13 of 22) last year. New Hampshire lost three out of 35 adult moose wearing collars this year, compared with one of 21 in 2014.

New Hampshire moose biologist Kristine Rines said biologists across North America don’t know exactly what drives the worst cases of mortality caused by winter ticks, but they believe it is connected to a warming climate.

“We have some knowledge about what we think happens, but by and large if you look at the way climatologists say things are going, you may not see moose in the (lower 48 states) in the future, unless it’s at very high elevations where there are longer winters,” Rines said.

“It all depends on how quick winter comes and how quickly it leaves. The weather is the biggest variable. But last I knew there were no hard and fast rules about what is happening.”

Rines said Maine’s more northerly climate may give moose here a leg up over New Hampshire’s herd, given that the northern border of New Hampshire reaches only as far north as Dover-Foxcroft, about halfway up Maine.

Maine biologists have collared moose to the west of Moosehead Lake, just north of Dover-Foxcroft. And Kantar said next year they hope to include a sample of moose at the very northern end of Maine, near Fort Kent.

“This is why we asked Maine to join us in this study, so we could look at animals farther north,” Rines said. “With hopefully more years in this study, we’ll see what’s changing. We can’t jump to conclusions this year.”

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