Maine Moose Face a Serious Threat This Winter, And It Isn’t Hunters

by Craig Garrett
Flower Power - stock photo

A shorter winter season in Maine’s woodlands has created a big problem for the moose population, as ticks are active during warmer weather. These ticks last year killed nearly 90% of Maine moose calves, reports. The state of Maine is currently investigating a non-traditional solution to the issue climate change has caused its moose population. They’re considering the idea of allowing hunters to harvest more moose each year.

Moose Biologist Lee Kantar is helming the study. “We’ve seen that areas with lower moose density tend to have healthier moose with fewer ticks,” Kantar explained. “The ticks can’t survive without a host.” Maine’s messy predicament is a microcosm of how climate change is globally affecting ecosystems by allowing parasites to flourish in new, northern territory. If Maine tackles its problem effectively through increased hunting, it could set an example for other regions contending with similar issues.

The winter tick is a primary concern as it has reproduced exponentially in recent years due to climate change. The extended warm seasons allow the winter tick more time to find hosts, such as deer, moose, and people before falling temperatures would otherwise kill them.

Climate change may be a factor with the Maine moose tick problem

Sean Birkel is the state climatologist and assistant professor at the University of Maine Climate Change Institute and Cooperative Extension. He thinks that in Maine, the climate has warmed to where winter only lasts one or two weeks compared to a century ago. The extra weeks of frost-free weather allow moose to acquire more ticks, which will drain its blood over winter and tax it when it should be conserving energy.

The moose, being the biggest local forest animal, unfortunately, has to endure more tick bites than its smaller counterparts. This is because other animals, like deer and snowshoe hare, remove ticks by scratching or rubbing against trees – leaving the moose relatively defenseless.“For whatever reason, moose are no good at getting rid of the ticks,” Birkel said.

Ticks are generally more of a nuisance to stronger, adult moose, but they can be deadly for younger moose. In the past seven years, calculated data has shown that over half of moose calves die before reaching their first year old. Last year in northern Maine alone, nearly ninety percent perished as a result of ticks.

Kantar is now researching whether thinning the moose population by expanding hunting can help in Tick-Borne Disease prevention. The study will take place in one Maine region to see if there’s evidence that suggests Mooses who survive being hunted end up with fewer ticks. It is unclear what an ideal moose population for Maine would be, but he hopes the study answers that question.

According to Kantar, options like spraying forests with pesticides or medicating moose with injections or collars aren’t possible because it’s hard to find and capture them due to the large area they typically inhabit. “These aren’t domestic dogs,” quipped.