The Fish and Wildlife board has given preliminary approval for 285 regular season permits and 50 archery permits this year. The regular season number is a 20 percent reduction from 2013.
The decision reflects concern over the size and health of the herd. The permits are the state’s way of controlling the number of moose, and the density of the population in certain areas.
Biologists believe warmer weather is part of the problem. Heat is debilitating for moose generally, but warmer summers and shorter winters are also more conducive to the survival of a moose parasite called the winter tick.
The tick has been blamed for reduced moose numbers in other states in recent years and Vermont wildlife officials are concerned there may be a similar but less severe impact in Vermont.
Last year for the first time the state conducted a tick count on moose brought to check-in stations during hunting season. The results showed tick numbers that are below other New England states.
“It’s a start and some baseline data and we’ll compare trends, but what we know because New Hampshire and Maine has been doing this is our tick loads are moderate to light compared to what they have,” says wildlife biologist Cedric Alexander, the state’s moose project leader.
Alexander says the greatest number of ticks per animal was in Northern Vermont because the highest density population is in that area.
Moose density – the number of animals per square mile makes the tick problem worse.
Alexander says the ticks are likely an unanticipated consequence of a period nearly a decade ago when the state’s moose population peaked at 5,000 animals, mostly in the Northeast Kingdom.
“It’s probably very safe to assume that if New Hampshire and Vermont had never allowed their moose densities to get as high as they were, that the tick problem might not be as great as it’s been,” he says.
Vermont’s moose herd is now estimated at 2,500. It’s hoped that by issuing fewer permits the number will climb to between 3,000 and 5,000 animals.
The ideal number is based on what the habitat will support and what’s call cultural carrying capacity – based on the impact of wildlife on humans.
Alexander says future target numbers may also have to take into account the fact that higher moose numbers in a particular area means a bigger tick problem.