State News

Additional moose hunting permits proposed to improve moose health

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Dept. has proposed issuing 100 moose hunting permits in Vermont’s Wildlife Management Unit (WMU-E) in the northeastern corner of the state in order to reduce the impact of winter ticks on the moose population. The proposal was accepted by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife board at its Feb.16 meeting.

By Jake DeBow, Josh Blouin / VTF&W
The high number of moose in the northeastern corner of Vermont has stimulated a dramatic increase in winter ticks, causing moose health to severely decline. As many as 90,000 winter ticks have been found on one moose. More than half of moose calves have died in recent winters due to blood loss caused by the winter ticks. VTF&W explains that reducing the number of hosts (moose) will reduce the number of parasitic ticks and improve moose health.

“Department staff, including moose project lead biologist Nick Fortin and biometrician Katherina Gieder, brought incredible scientific expertise to this recommendation,” said Commissioner of Fish & Wildlife Christopher Herrick. “The proposal our board vetted and approved was informed by years of field research and sophisticated statistical analyses that have been featured in peer reviewed publications alongside results from sister efforts in Maine and New Hampshire.”

The goal of the department’s 2022 moose harvest recommendation is to improve the health of moose in WMU-E by reducing the number of moose and thereby reducing the abundance and impact of winter ticks.

“Moose density in WMU E is still more than one moose per square mile, significantly higher than any other part of the state,” said Nick Fortin, Vermont Fish & Wildlife’s moose project leader. “Moose densities greater than one per square mile support high numbers of winter ticks which negatively impact moose health and survival.”

The Fish & Wildlife Dept. partnered with University of Vermont researchers to conduct a study of moose health and survival in WMU E. The results of this study, in which 126 moose (36 cows, 90 calves) were fitted with GPS tracking collars, clearly showed that chronic high winter tick loads have caused the health of moose in that part of the state to be very poor. Survival of adult moose remained relatively good, but birth rates were very low and less than half of the calves survived their first winter.

By Jake DeBow / VTF&W
Winter ticks can be so thick, they can kill an adult moose.

“Research has shown that lower moose densities in the rest of Vermont support relatively few winter ticks that do not impact moose populations,” said Fortin. “Reducing moose density decreases the number of available hosts which in turn decreases the number of winter ticks on the landscape.”

The department would issue 60 either-sex moose hunting permits and 40 antlerless moose permits in WMU-E for the moose seasons this October. This is expected to result in a harvest of 51 to 65 moose, or about 5 % of the moose population in WMU-E. The same number of permits were issued in 2021 when hunters took 62 moose.

“This permit recommendation represents a continued attempt to address winter tick impacts on moose in WMU-E,” added Fortin. “Given the poor health of the moose population in that area and a clearly identified cause, we need to take action to address this issue. Without intervention to reduce the moose population, high tick loads will continue to impact the health of moose in that region for many years.”

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