October 24, 2006

Vermont Moose Population High in Some Areas

MONTPELIER, Vt. -- State wildlife biologists are hoping an aggressive moose hunt this season will help cut in half the number of animals in the Northeast Kingdom where the population has far exceeded the ability of the land to provide for them and moose conflicts with people are increasing, officials say.

The season is off to a good start. After the first two days, the number of animals reported killed statewide exceeded the number taken during the same period last year by about 40 percent.

"The hunters seem pretty happy about that," said Forrest Hammond, a wildlife biologist with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, and a member of the state moose team. "We've had a lot of people come in and say they'd never even seen moose when they were young. Now there's a huntable population, they're just thrilled."

The goal of this year's moose hunt is to reduce the population in the Northeast Kingdom to its 1995 level, about half of what it is now, said Hammond.

There are an estimated 5,000 moose statewide.

While the goal in Essex, Caledonia and Orleans counties is to cut the moose population, in the rest of the state the goal is to maintain the current moose population or let it grow slightly, said Hammond.

The state issued a record 1,115 moose permits statewide for this year's two seasons. Biologists are hoping about 650 moose will be taken.

The number of moose in Vermont has been growing for the last 30 years as part of a resurgence of moose throughout the region prompted by a combination of ideal habitat, caused by the regrowth of forests onto once-cleared farmland, timber harvests and a lack of natural predators.

"In the late '50s, '60s and even '70s it was super habitat. We saw the moose population grow just about as fast as the moose population could," Hammond said.

Moose are reported in 90 percent of Vermont while moose hunting is allowed in 80 percent of the state, said state Wildlife Director Ron Regan.

Now, the number of moose in the Northeast Kingdom are over-browsing the countryside, drawing complaints from foresters who say it's becoming more difficult to regrow forests. Maple sugar producers complain moose destroy sap collection systems strung between trees. And motorists complain moose are a hazard on the road.

Moose have no natural predators and the largest source of moose mortality is hunting and collisions with motor vehicles, Hammond said. The first started tracking the number of moose killed in collisions with motor vehicles since 1980 when none were reported. Last year 144 moose were killed in collisions.

Thirteen motorists have died in moose-vehicle collisions since 1985. The most recent human fatality came last month when a man was killed when his car hit a moose on Interstate 93 in Waterford.

Overpopulation also is an issue in New Hampshire, but only in the state's northernmost Connecticut Lakes region, according to the state Fish and Game Department. Moose project leader Kristine Rines said more moose-hunting permits were issued this fall in that region in hopes of reducing the population.

In Maine, which has an estimated 29,000 moose, a growing number of car-moose collisions prompted the state a couple of years ago to increase the number of moose hunting permits in northern Maine to keep the population in check.

The state also allowed hunters to take more female moose in an effort to reduce the number of females to slow growth of the moose population.

In addition, the Legislature has directed the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to study the possibility off expanding the moose hunt farther south.

Regan said moose were starting to expand into Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York.