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Moose in NH - FAQs

NH Fish and Game moose biologist Kristine Rines looks at threats affecting New Hampshire's moose population, how our moose are managed, and how you can help.

 

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Why are moose listed in the 2015 NH Wildlife Action Plan as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need?

Moose are not currently a threatened or endangered species in New Hampshire. In the past two to three years, the moose population has grown or stabilized over much of the state. Our moose do face threats, which are outlined in New Hampshire’s Wildlife Action Plan. It is important that anyone reviewing the Wildlife Action Plan read the threats and actions PDF Document section (in Appendix A of the plan) for each species or habitat listed.  The threats are the reasons for the listing. The threats for moose include: (1) habitat loss and fragmentation due to development and lack of clear cutting; (2) the possibility that heat stress may impact body condition and reduce productivity; (3) increased mortality and decreased productivity due to increases in winter tick; (4) increases in mortality due to increasing deer densities causing higher brainworm parasitism; (5) mortality from motor vehicles.

 

If the listed threats continue unabated, there is concern that moose populations will irreversibly decline. The threats for which we are most concerned are those that impact habitat (development and lack of cutting) and those that increase parasitism (shorter winters). If these changes continue, the existing habitat will simply be unable to support moose.

 

Let’s take these threats one by one and dissect each impact:

  • Habitat
  • Heat Stress
  • Winter Tick
  • Brain Worm
  • Vehicle Collisions
Habitat Loss & Fragmentation: The state of New Hampshire loses approximately 14,000 acres of open space each year to development, primarily home construction. This reduction in habitat is impacting many wildlife species, moose among them. The removal of habitat reduces the landscape’s ability to support wildlife and makes it difficult for species to access habitats necessary for feeding or cover. In addition, lack of cutting reduces forage for moose which in turn reduces the number of moose the landscape can support. Please go to Young Forest Initiative to learn how the lack of cutting is negatively impacting a majority of New Hampshire’s wildlife species.

moose cooling off in pool

Moose cooling off in pool.

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Moose are well adapted to cold conditions, but not well equipped to endure heat and humidity. While heat stress has not yet been proven to be a factor in moose declines, the work that has been done suggests that moose are susceptible to heat stress, which is probably why moose in New Hampshire tend to be most active during dawn and dusk and at night. This is listed as a threat because we do know that moose in tightly controlled conditions begin to pant at 68°F and cease foraging at 79° F. As our climate changes and temperatures increase, moose are one species which will not benefit from the predicted changes.

Ticks on moose calf

Ticks on moose calf. Select image for larger size.

A review of the winter tick’s life cycle can be found by reading the article What’s Bugging Our Moose PDF Document. White-tailed deer are the primary host of winter tick, and wherever deer and moose coincide, these ticks can be a problem for moose. Winter ticks do not, however, impact deer, because deer have evolved with this parasite over a longer period of time. Winter ticks can cause both increased moose mortality and reduced moose productivity. Given the right conditions, these ticks can cause large declines in moose populations.

 

Tick abundance is most impacted by two things, winter length/timing and moose density:

 

  • Shorter winters, with snow arriving later and melting earlier, is good for winter ticks. On average, our winters are now three weeks shorter than they were 30 years ago. Shorter winters increase tick numbers, which in turn increase the impacts to moose.
  • Regardless of winter length, ticks become less of a problem at lower moose densities. Based on our own moose populations, ticks seem to become much less of a problem where moose densities are around 0.25 moose/square mile (mi2) or less. Right now, our regional moose densities range from 1.73 down to 0.11/mi2. We are unsure if our changing climate, with its shorter winters and higher tick densities, will allow higher moose densities to continue to exist, or if they will gradually decline to a lower density due to tick impacts.

 

The NH Fish and Game Department and the University of New Hampshire are currently working on a six-year moose mortality project in Coos County to try to determine the severity of the tick problem and how it is influenced by our current weather conditions. This is the second moose mortality study conducted; the first ran from 2001 to 2006. During the first study, NH Fish and Game learned that winter ticks were the prime cause of mortality for northern moose. The current study is being conducted to assess the current tick impacts on mortality and productivity and to gain a better understanding of how moose density and weather work together to influence tick problems. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is doing a similar mortality study in two regions of Maine. By comparing study sites from northern New Hampshire to northern Maine, with differing moose densities and weather conditions, we hope to develop a better understanding of what the future holds for moose in New England.

Brainworm is another parasite that kills moose. Its primary host is also the white--tailed deer. Again, as with winter ticks, brainworm infections rarely negatively impact deer, because they have evolved with the parasite over a longer period of time than moose. Brainworm-induced moose mortality is influenced by two things; deer densities and the density of land snails and slugs (secondary hosts). As winters shorten, deer densities have, and will likely continue to, increase. Deer densities throughout the state have increased substantially since the 1980s due to a series of milder winters and changes in the state’s deer management program.

 

Since the ongoing moose mortality study is focused on the northern portion of the state, and current tests for brainworm can be somewhat inconclusive, it is difficult to say for certain what impact brainworm may be having on the state’s moose population as a whole. However, North American research suggests that in areas with deer densities in excess of 10 – 13/mi2, moose tend to decline to low numbers or disappear entirely due to brainworm-induced mortality. Currently, most of the southern half of the state has deer densities above this level. We don’t know if brainworm will cause our southern moose to disappear entirely. Massachusetts continues to maintain a small moose population with a deer density of approximately 12-18/mi2. This may be due to the negative impact acid rain has had on the secondary host (land snails) that is needed to transfer brainworm from deer to moose. The resulting lower snail densities may be limiting the spread of brainworm from deer to moose. Due to the uncertainties surrounding brainworm and its potential to impact the state’s moose population, NH Fish and Game has contracted with the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Northeast Wildlife Disease Cooperative, to coordinate and administer development of a blood-based test for brainworm infection in moose and deer to help shed light on what impact this parasite is having on the state’s moose population.

moose in road

Moose in road. Select image for larger size.

The number of moose killed by motor vehicles is dependent on a number of factors, including the number of motorists, speed, visibility, use of salt on the roadway, type of habitat that is adjacent to the roadway, and moose density. Currently, more moose are killed by motor vehicles than by hunting. As the number of motor vehicles using our highways increases, this may become a more important mortality factor for moose. Currently, it is a minor consideration for moose population management.

 

While not a major problem for the moose population, moose/vehicle collisions can be devastating for the people involved; this has so often been a reason the public has requested fewer moose. The NH Fish and Game Department has worked with the NH Department of Transportation, the NH Department of Safety and the Governor’s Council in developing and implementing programs designed to reduce moose/vehicle collisions and educate motorists about the safest driving practices in moose country. These include a variety of highway signs, a driver education program increasing awareness of wildlife on the roads, a safe driving practices video that plays at state highway rest areas, annual public service announcements, and the “Brake for Moose” bumper sticker.

 

 

Why is there still a New Hampshire moose hunt if moose are listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need?

There are three other hunted species, (grouse, woodcock and black duck) and many fished species that are also included on the list of Species of Greatest Conservation Need. None of these species, including moose, are listed due to concerns caused by hunting or fishing pressure. For moose, the concern is if habitat impacts and climate changes continue unchecked, it will result in an environment that is no longer capable of supporting moose. The other hunted species on the Species of Greatest Conservation Need list are also there primarily due to climate change and/or habitat-related concerns.

 

What is the current moose status and what is the Department’s plan for moose?

Every ten years, NH Fish and Game, with the help of the general public, develops a ten year Game Management Plan PDF Document providing goals and objectives to guide management recommendations. The most current plan was implemented in 2016 and will run until 2025. The following graphs depict the regional moose population changes since 1993, as well as the current status. Each graph shows the estimated moose density over time (white line); the changing goals (red line) for the density, as set every ten years during the planning process; and the cut-off threshold (green line). This cut-off threshold was first implemented during the 2016 planning process, due to our concerns regarding habitat change and increasing impacts from parasitism. If the regional moose population should fall to the cut-off threshold density, permit issuance in that region will be suspended. View the NH Game Management Plan PDF Document

 

The current New Hampshire moose population is approximately 3,800 animals. Regional densities range from 1.73 – 0.11 moose/mi2. These densities are typical for hunted North American moose populations, with 0.11 being on the low end of the spectrum and 1.73 being in the middle. The majority of moose populations in North America have a density of less than 2.5 moose/mi2, although some local populations far exceed this level.

 

View graphs and learn more PDF Document about regional moose population changes over time, the changing goals as set every ten years, in conjunction with the general public, and the cut-off thresholds for permit suspension.

 

Why are we continuing to do research on moose when we know that ticks are a problem?

moose with hair loss due to ticks

Moose with hair loss due to ticks.

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While we know that winter ticks are a problem for moose in the northern portion of the state, we don’t know what set of circumstances (namely what weather conditions and moose density) may result in ticks causing an irreversible moose population decline or, conversely, what may allow moose to remain, and if so, at what level. Given changes in climate, habitat and parasite loads, remaining moose populations will not be able to be sustained at historic levels.

Who pays for moose research?

Seventy-five percent of the cost of the moose research is covered by federal funds derived from a federal tax on firearms and ammunition sales dedicated to the conservation and management of wild birds and mammals and their habitat through the Wildlife Restoration Program. These monies are made available to all state wildlife agencies and can be used for approved grant projects as long as the agency provides 25% in matching funds. The 25% state matching funds for our moose research are being provided to the Department by the University of New Hampshire, and are monies associated with faculty and graduate student time. Without these monies, NH Fish and Game could not afford to conduct this important research.

 

Is there any way to kill the winter ticks affecting our moose?

The best ways to reduce the impacts of winter ticks would be to add back the three weeks of winter we have lost due to climate change, or reduce moose density. That said, we don’t know, given the current weather parameters, what moose density may be most effective for balancing the reduction of tick impacts, while maintaining a viable moose population. Barring the longer winters or fewer moose scenarios, there is no viable way to reduce ticks on the landscape. Many people have written in suggesting we:

 

  1. put tick collars on moose;
  2. hunt the animals with paintballs filled with insecticide;
  3. put up cattle rollers that would automatically apply insecticide to moose that walked under them;
  4. place insecticide-laced salt licks out for moose;
  5. spray the woods to eliminate ticks;
  6. burn the woods to eliminate ticks; or
  7. release robots that would apply insecticide to the ground;
  8. stock guinea fowl to eat the ticks.

 

Let’s address these suggestions individually:

 

  • Tick Collars
  • Repellents
  • Cattle Rollers
  • Ingested Acaricides
  • Landscape Spraying
  • Burning the Landscape
  • Robots
  • Guinea Fowl
There is no tick collar currently designed for moose. There is one designed for horses and it works very similarly to that of tick collars for dogs and cats. A new collar has to be placed on the animal every 3 – 5 weeks. Winter ticks get on moose starting in early September and continue questing, weather permitting, until late December. So, depending on regional moose density, 40 – 90% of the regional moose population would have to be captured every four weeks for up to four months each year. While there are numerous reasons why this will not work, the fiscal reason alone is enough to put this “solution” aside. In good weather it costs approximately $1,000 to capture one moose. It could cost approximately $4 million to collar a single region’s moose population in one year.
The time of year when moose get winter ticks is also the time of year when their winter hair coat is very long and dense. In order for tick repellents to work, it is necessary that it reach the skin. You would have to douse moose with a pressure washer to reach their skin at this time of year. And again, you’d have to successfully apply the acaricide to each moose on a monthly basis from September through December.
There is a version of this (four poster application) that is used to reduce black-legged ticks on deer. With deer, they have been relatively effective when used in small urban/suburban areas with extremely high deer densities. However, they have proven less effective when applied at larger scales and have never been tested in a true open forested landscape. Studies on deer show several of these devices are required per square mile to maintain effectiveness, and it can cost several thousand dollars to maintain a single unit for a season (one study suggested $5,000 dollars for a single unit). Given that moose densities in New Hampshire are drastically lower than deer densities in these studies (some in excess of 100 deer/mi2) and the areas these devices would need to be deployed in are much more rural and treacherous in nature, it is likely that more devices would need to be used per square mile to be effective. Maintenance costs would also be substantially higher, given differences in terrain, making this even more cost prohibitive for moose. Further, the acaricide is applied to the deer’s head and upper neck as they eat from a bait station. The acaricide is gradually transferred over the deer’s body when the deer grooms itself. As moose do not effectively groom, this method would not work for moose. In addition, in order to impact the winter tick, this would have to applied when moose hair coat is very long and dense, which would curtail the application of the acaricide to the animal’s skin, making it ineffective.
Ivermectin, when ingested in the proper dose, does eliminate ticks from moose. Getting the right dose into the moose on a monthly basis is the problem. This has been used with some success in Texas on deer using corn as bait, but they are now finding that the ticks of concern are developing immunity to both ingested and applied acaricides.  In addition, the time of year when ticks are infesting moose is the time of year when moose are least likely to come to any bait.
The Department is unaware of any spray-based pesticide which targets only ticks and does not kill beneficial insects, such as our insect pollinators, and/or have detrimental impacts to aquatic wildlife such as fish and amphibians.
Burning the landscape to reduce ticks has been shown to be effective, however, the NH Fish and Game Department does not own or manage enough land to make this an effective approach. Also, burning such large amounts of land may have other unintended negative consequences to associated habitats and other wildlife species.
There actually is a robotic device that removes ticks from mowed lawns. Unfortunately, moose don’t live on lawns.
The release of non-native fowl would need to be done on a regular basis, in part because survival of released birds would likely be low, and would increase the chances of spreading domestic fowl disease to our native birds. Avian pox in our native turkeys is one such virus.

 

 

Is there any way to reduce brainworm impacts on moose?

The best way to reduce brainworm mortality for moose is to maintain low deer densities. The current recommendation is to maintain deer densities lower than 10 – 13 mi2.

 

At what point would a decision be made to stop the moose hunt?

The current plan, as approved by the general public, includes the Department’s suggested regional moose cut-off threshold population levels, which would result in the suspension of permit issuance for that region. Permits would be re-issued in that region once the population realized a two-year increase, resulting in a population density at least 13% higher than the cut-off threshold. These cut-off thresholds can be seen in the regional graphs PDF Document. Increased knowledge of how our changing climate and increasing parasite burdens influence the ability of the environment to maintain moose may cause revised recommendations for both the regional goals and cut-off thresholds.

 

Would ending the hunt allow the moose population to increase?

We will break the state into two separate areas for this discussion:


Southern New Hampshire: The southern half of the state is composed of the Central, South West and South East moose management regions. Moose in this area are likely being most impacted by brainworm mortality. Once moose become infected with this parasite, the mortality rate is virtually 100%. Rarely do animals survive. The infection rate is dependent on deer density and the density of land snails and slugs. We do not know what the current infection rate is, but given the consistent moose declines we’ve seen in all three regions, it is probably quite high. As Massachusetts continues to support a very small number of moose with similar densities of deer, we believe that eventually our southern moose populations may also stabilize at low numbers, especially as the goals for deer in most of this area are to stabilize the deer populations at their current levels. We have set the cut-off thresholds in the Central and South West regions at a level very close to the population goals, so any further decline will result in permit suspension being implemented. However, suspending permit issuance will not stop the decline if brainworm persists at its current infection rate. The harvest mortality in this region is less than 1% of the population, while the overall mortality has to be greater than 20% to cause the recent declines. So, suspending permit issuance here will have no appreciable impact on the ability of this moose population to either increase or decline.

 

Northern New Hampshire: In the northern portion of the state, consisting of the Connecticut Lakes, North and White Mountain moose management regions, the growth of the moose population is being most impacted by the winter tick. The current season would take slightly more than 1% of the moose population. For the population to decline, the combined mortality from all causes must be removing at least 18% of this population. Because so few moose are taken during the season, the hunt is not influencing the growth or decline of this population in any substantive way. So, again, if we suspended permit issuance here, the moose population would not rebound. We are simply taking too few moose to have any impact. If we suddenly had three to five years of long winters, ticks would decline and the moose population would grow. However, winters are consistently shorter now, and the reality is that ticks will be the deciding factor in determining moose density on the landscape for the foreseeable future.


How does NH Fish and Game monitor the moose population?

The moose population level is monitored annually using sightings by deer hunters. This method was tested for accuracy using aerial infrared thermal imagery. This independent method of moose sighting validated the ability of deer hunter sighting rates to accurately measure change in the moose population, and also gave us an equation that allows us to estimate moose density from the deer hunter-derived moose sighting rate. Recent work done in Vermont has shown that the deer hunter sighting rate tends to underestimate moose density, when compared to a population estimate based on an aerial infrared survey. Additional information on the age and physical condition of New Hampshire’s moose is derived from samples collected at mandatory check stations during the hunt.

 

What can I do to help New Hampshire’s moose?

Moose in field

Moose in field. Select image for larger size.

The biggest problems facing New Hampshire’s moose are: 1) Climate change causing shorter winters and increasing winter tick loads; 2) Habitat loss and lack of habitat connectivity due to development; 3) Increasing deer densities, leading to increasing brainworm induced mortality for moose; 4) Reduced forage caused by lack of young forests. How can you help?

 

  1. Become informed on how climate change is already changing our state. The Sustainability Institute at UNH has two publications on how New Hampshire’s climate has changed. There are many websites that contain good information on how to reduce your carbon footprint.
  2. Support local and regional land conservation groups. Work within your town to conserve open space. Support town planning that includes open space.
  3. Advocate for balancing deer and moose population at levels consistent with maintaining both of these species for the future benefit and enjoyment of New Hampshire’s residents. Attend Fish and Game season-setting and planning meetings.
  4. Support young forests and read about the young forests initiative.