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State seeks to save moose from ticks by increasing hunting

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    State seeks to save moose from ticks by increasing hunting

    State seeks to save moose from ticks by increasing hunting

    State officials say that increasing the hunting of moose in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom could help save the animals from the damaging spread of winter ticks.

    The Fish and Wildlife Department is proposing the state issue more moose hunting permits in the region around Essex County, where a high population density threatens to increase the spread of winter ticks, which could kill off moose longterm.

    “Moose densities greater than one per square mile support high numbers of winter ticks, which negatively impact moose health and survival,” Nick Fortin, the department’s biologist heading the project, said in a press release Thursday.

    In Vermont’s most northeastern wildlife management unit, which mostly includes Essex County, the moose population is denser than any other part of the state, according to a draft Fish and Wildlife Department report published Tuesday. In one part of the region, state researchers estimated there were 1.7 moose per square mile; in the other part, there were 1.99 moose per square mile.

    The next-highest estimates outside the Kingdom came from Franklin and Washington counties, where there were an estimated 0.33 moose per square mile.

    In the report, prepared for the state Fish and Wildlife Board, department officials recommend issuing 55 either-sex permits for the October season, which they expect to yield a harvest of 33 moose, mostly bulls.

    The recommendation is a significant shift from 2019, when the department recommended issuing no permits. The state board accepted that proposal in April last year.

    The new permit recommendations follow research that found a link between declining moose health in the region and an increasing number of winter ticks, a trend the state has been grappling with in recent years.

    Between 2017 and 2019, researchers fitted GPS collars to 126 moose in the area — 36 adult cows and 90 calves. Field tests attributed almost three-quarters of deaths in that study population to winter ticks.

    In all three winters, most of the adults survived. But in the winters of 2017 and 2018, at least half of the monitored calves died. Nearly all of them showed signs of winter tick infestation or brain worm infection, another ailment affecting the species, according to a January 2019 video from the department.

    Brain worm is a parasite commonly found in white-tailed deer that is fatal to moose, field researcher Jake DeBow said in the video. Both brain worm and winter tick infestations among moose have risen in the state due to climate change, according to DeBow.

    “Warmer, milder winters have increased deer populations in Vermont, raising infection rates of brain worm among moose,” he said. “The ticks have become more prolific as spring and fall weather has warmed.”

    To try to get rid of ticks, moose rub off their insulating hair, causing them to collapse from blood loss and hypothermia during the cold months, according to DeBow. Some moose bodies have been found hosting more than 50,000 winter ticks, which are not a threat to humans.

    Winter ticks have lowered birth rates among the moose studied, according to the report released Tuesday. With the mortality rate of calves, researchers are alarmed about how well the overall population can survive in the future, particularly because of its density in the region.

    Moose more densely populate that part of the Kingdom because of its colder climate, longer winters, low deer densities, large forest blocks and abundant young forests created by the timber industry.

    Officials believe culling the number of moose in the region is necessary to stem that trend. After several recent years of limiting permit numbers — due to lower population estimates at the time — officials think hunters can cut the moose density below one per square mile in four years.

    In seven years, the proposed permit numbers would lower the density to 0.75 moose per square mile, assuming that birth rates and survival rates do not improve.

    The report cites research showing a reduced tick frequency with a density below one moose per square mile, and no tick outbreaks at densities below 0.75 moose per square mile.

    “This permit recommendation is a conservative first step to addressing winter tick impacts on moose” in the Kingdom, said Fortin, the state biologist, in a statement. “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.”

    The proposal calls for 34 regular season permits and 10 for the archery season. Five should be awarded to veterans for the regular season, the proposal says, and three each should be given to auction and special-opportunity recipients, who can choose a season.

    The department doesn’t recommend issuing permits for any areas outside the Northeast Kingdom. None of the management units outside the region has ever reached of moose density of one per square mile, the report says.

    The archery season spans from Oct. 1 to Oct. 7, and the regular season begins on Oct. 17 and lasts for six days, according to the department.

    The public can submit comments on the proposed regulations by email.

    The recommendations follow research showing declining moose health and an increased prevalence of winter ticks in the Northeast Kingdom.

    Why don’t they try and combat the ticks with a onslaught of ground birds and turkeys? Quail and other tick eating birds.