After opening the trail camera and switching on its tiny viewing screen, my companion scrolled through picture after picture. The images were of deer, but not the kind most hunters find on their cameras. These were big deer – very, very big deer. In fact, they were among the biggest in North America.

The location was the North Maine Woods where I was moose hunting and sightings of the largest member of the deer family were frustratingly scarce. I had expected it, but the pictures told a different story.

My expectations were based partly on anecdotal information from others who had visited the north country but also on more empirical intel. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) has cut moose hunting permits roughly in half in the last two years. One reason cited is increased mortality related to winter ticks.

It’s the other that’s more troubling to me. According to a Press Herald article, the department indicated part of the reason for scaling back permits was “… to meet public demand for greater opportunities to see moose.”

Say what? I’m a little surprised they consider that a valid reason but I’m stunned they actually came out and stated it. It’s not unlike telling fisherman they’re going to cut back on trout and salmon stocking so they can supply more fish to restaurants.

Furthermore, moose hunting and winter ticks are not the principal reason for a decline in moose visibility. No, that is far more a result of mandatory changes in cutting practices than of a lack of moose, as the cameras showed.

The fellow I hunted with last week had placed several trail cameras in the woods a week prior to our hunt and the results were eye-opening. As someone with a great deal of experience using game cameras for deer, I was very surprised with how many different moose the cameras captured – far more than I would have expected.

It turns out that under cover of darkness and in dense woods beyond the roads, there are many moose. You just can’t see them from the road because former large, open cuts have been replaced with strip cuts and other less “visually offensive” thinning practices.

In addition to reducing moose visibility, those cutting practices have reduced and degraded the preferred habitat for some migrant songbirds. When you make big cuts you also leave larger uncut areas. Recent practices create more edge habitat and less forest interior, favoring far more common and less imperiled species that prefer edge. Hunters may not care, but birdwatchers will have far fewer sightings of a dozen or so different warbler species along their entire migration route.

I’ve also noticed the prohibition on larger cuts has reduced favorable habitat for snowshoe hare, the preferred prey of lynx. You can probably guess the trickle-down effect on these relatively scarce predators.

Fortunately the picture isn’t as bleak as it appears to some. Lynx may be uncommon in Maine but they always have been and always will be, because they’re a fringe species. Step over the border into Canada and they’re a commonly trapped furbearer.

As for the moose, our camera surveys and IFW officials suggest the moose herd is actually healthier than it has been in several years. And if you’re willing to go a little deeper into the North Maine Woods you can still find open cuts big enough to offer more moose sightings. We did, but that’s another story for another day.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]


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