Bad news moose

Bad news moose

Moose populations continue to expand in the Northeast, and states are learning, sometimes on the fly, how to accommodate the animals, reports the Wildlife Management Institute.

Maine has the most experience with moose because, unlike in other states, its herds were not extirpated in the 1800s. Experts generally believe moose have reoccupied former ranges through westward movement from Maine, first into New Hampshire, followed by Vermont, Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut.

Some of the northern states are beginning to hear complaints about too many moose, especially from foresters witnessing regeneration failures caused by overbrowsing. States are responding differently. Maine, with the largest moose population and occupied range, is the most conservative manager, issuing only 780 permits for cow moose harvest out of a quota of 2,880 permits. Vermont, on the other hand, is more concerned about overpopulation. It has 1,115 permits available, all of which allow cow harvest.

Most of the southern New England states wish privately that the northern states' harvest goals were much higher. Massachusetts is prohibited by statute from having a moose season, and the 900 moose in the state are frequently in harm's way from humans and their vehicles. Connecticut moose are even more frequently a problem, and managers there imagine the disquieting scenario of moose headed towards New York City. New York State is witnessing a moose population irruption of sorts, with roughly 500 moose now occupying the northern part of the state where estimates only a decade ago pegged numbers at 50 to 100.

Throughout the period of population recovery, managers have consistently underestimated the resilience of moose populations. "Basically, it kind of surprised us that these animals were taking to New York," New York biologist Chuck Dente stated recently. "Somewhere along the way, they proved everyone wrong. They have adapted quite well."

Now, as managers contemplate how to adapt to moose in places they were not in before, the specter of global climate change looms as the newest challenge to the ability of moose populations to persist. Southern ranges of moose are predicted to move northward as the climate warms and as vegetative composition changes. Moose are susceptible to heat stress, and temperature is the foremost determinant of the species' distribution.

Only time will tell if history repeats itself. As the Northeast was settled in the 1700s and 1800s, moose populations contracted to the north due to overhunting and widespread habitat change. Now perhaps, a different form of human impact to the environment will again force moose populations to retreat to northern wildlands.

October 07, 2007