Study of Idaho’s Declining Moose Population Yields Surprising Culprit

by Madison Miller

It appears that moose populations are on the decrease.

The dwindling number of moose does not have to do with hunting rates, however.

Moose Populations in Idaho

A study from the Idaho Fish and Game investigated why so many moose were ending up dead this season. The overall concern came down to sickness that is caused naturally.

“You know how big a moose’s nose is? They aren’t very adept at cleaning parasites off of them like ticks, so they do struggle a lot with ticks. Because they don’t have small mouths to be able to bite off ticks and so they can get really heavy loads of ticks which can eventually lead to their death,” according to Shane Roberts, IDFG Wildlife Research Coordinator and Idaho News 6.

Many of the dead moose being found show signs of sickness linked to different parasites. Unlike other animals, moose have a hard time fending off sickness due to their shape.

By putting tracking devices on 112 moose, it was discovered that 89% survived through the fall. While this is a low number of deaths, it still raised concerns as to what else was going on here.

Another factor besides parasites is that calves often don’t make it through the winter and there are some issues with moose pregnancy rates.

So what could this mean for hunters this season and seasons to come?

“We aren’t sure that is where we are at with moose right now. We are just starting to study that, but anytime there are signs of declines, it could eventually result in fewer tags,” Roberts said, according to Idaho News 6.

The problem isn’t only happening in Idaho. Natural deaths of moose caused by natural selection are happening in places like Alaska too, where there is usually an abundance of the animal.

A Longstanding Tick Problem

The problem is not a new one, either.

Since the early 2000s, there has been a stark decrease in the moose population. In New Hampshire, ecologists were finding dead moose left and right. The main reason here appeared to be the ticks.

According to Kristine Rines, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s moose biologist, the ticks killed 75% of the calves in the winters of 2013-14.

Conservationists around the world are stumped as to when to jump in to help animals. However, many are suffering from issues that have arisen from climate change and are therefore having a hard time adapting quickly. Ticks are now lasting later in the winter than they were able to before.

Mild winters means tick outbreaks left and right. It is an annual event. “We’ve had five of these in the last eight years. That is just absolutely unprecedented,” Peter Pekins, a professor of ecology at the University of New Hampshire said, according to Inside Climate News.

Hunting in Alaska

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game decided not to issue hunting permits that start in December as they usually do. There will still be hunting opportunities in January and February.

The state is looking to gather information about what is happening to their moose population.

“We’ve documented really low survival and recruitment of moose calves in 17 and 17C. That issue may have been going on longer before we started to document that issue. But the fact that the population has been in decline and that the productivity and survival is low, we are concerned for the population in 17C,” Tod Rinald, regional director for the area said, according to a report from The Bristol Bay Times.

Moose hunting is one of the most popular big game hunting opportunities. However, it may be forced on the decline in the upcoming years.