AUGUSTA – For the second straight year state biologists propose increasing the number of moose permits in the fall hunt after a four-year stretch that saw the number of permits slashed 49 percent, largely because of the winter tick parasite.

At the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Advisory Council meeting Thursday biologists proposed increasing moose permits 11 percent to 2,820 – with most additional permits being alloted in what biologists are now calling the state’s “core moose habitat” in northern Maine.

Maine state moose biologist Lee Kantar said winter ticks have not taken as much of a toll on moose calves this winter as in past years, based on the results of the state’s radio-collar study, which is now in its sixth year. Of the 75 moose calves affixed with radio collars this winter, just four have died. All four calf fatalities occurred in the western zone of the study around Greenville, not in the northern zone of the state’s study at the northern tip of Maine.

However, Kantar said that while fewer collared calves have been lost this winter, there also is a decrease in how many twin calves state biologists have seen with cow moose, so the reproductive rate of cows may be down.

Kantar said the size of Maine’s moose population is not driven by how many moose are killed by hunters, but to the incidence of parasites and disease, as well as the productivity of cow moose. And birth rates are affected by the winter tick parasite because it weakens cow moose, Kantar said.

The increased number of moose hunting permits is only a preliminary number and will be assessed in May. Snow depth in northern Maine still has moose hemmed into small areas, Kantar said. As a result, winter survival can’t be fully assessed until the snow is gone.

But because of the early snow that fell in the fall, biologists are hopeful there may have been fewer winter ticks on moose than in past winters. Biologists have learned the parasite is driven by warmer climates and conditions.

“The fall condition drive the winter tick,” Kantar said. “Our expectation is that the tick count will be down, and that should translate into increased calf survival. But we’ll have to see what happens.”

State biologists now consider Maine’s “core moose habitat,” where moose are thriving, to be in the northern half of the state in the wildlife management districts north of Springfield, Millinocket, Greenville and Carrabassett Valley, as well as Wildlife Management District 19 in the area of Washington County north of Route 9 and east of Springfield and Aurora.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: FlemingPph

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