A helicopter takes off in northern New Hampshire on the hunt for moose -- not to kill, but to collar as part of a three year study.
"We are concerned that productivity has declined and natural mortality has increased," said Kristine Rines, The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's Moose Project Leader.
The department, in partnership with the University of New Hampshire, recently trapped 43 animals to attach location devices. They will alert researchers when and where a moose has stopped moving permanently. "If possible we will remove the entire carcass from the woods and do a complete necropsy in a laboratory setting. If now, we will do a field necropsy to try to determine cause of death," Rines said.
In New Hampshire there are about 4,000 thousand moose in the forests. That compared to Vermont where there are only about 2,500 animals. Both states have seen declines over the past decade. Though some of that has been intentional through herd reduction -- allowing more hunters in the woods. There is also the winter tick. Moose taken during hunts are now scoured for ticks at weigh stations in Vermont and New Hampshire to see how badly the animals are infested. Officials say tens of thousands of ticks can feed on a single moose, affecting stress levels, immune systems and ultimately reproduction rates.
In an attempt to grow herd levels in recent years, hunting permits have been declining. Something not everyone thinks is a good thing. "I would like to see them stop coming down and stop being reduced until we get a better understanding of exactly what we are faced with," said Jason Parent with NH Guide Services.
Parent says herds need to be thinned out to keep populations strong, especially when it comes to the winter tick which jumps from moose to moose. "We've seen a decline in the moose numbers that we have had in the past -- in previous years -- but there are still a very large number of moose and a very large over-density in certain areas of the state," he said.
"Higher moose densities is going to lead to higher ticks which in turn is going to lead to higher instances of natural mortality," Rines said.
And there are other factors at play like brain worm. The disease is transmitted to moose from deer and affects the nervous system. New Hampshire's collaring program will also collect fur and blood samples. "We want to make sure that there aren't other things in play here as it has been shown to be the case in Minnesota and Ontario," Rines said.
Officials say one of the ultimate goals of the study is public education, so when policy makers are deciding on issues -- like how many hunting permits should be issued during a season -- they have the most up to date information guiding those decisions.
The State of Maine is currently conducting a similar study. Vermont is wrapping up an infrared aerial survey of moose. The studies are paid for using a federal excise tax on guns and ammunition.
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