MONTPELIER, Vermont — October's moose hunting season was good news for Vermont wildlife officials who say a tick infestation that has harmed the state's herd waned in the last year.
A "normal" winter and a late spring could be the reason biologists found fewer ticks on the carcasses of moose killed during Vermont's October hunting season, said Cedric Alexander, the moose biologist for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"Hopefully that is what we'd like to see, a normal winter, a normal retention of the snowpack up here to cause more mortality of the adult ticks and therefore fewer larvae in the following fall," Alexander said.
The number of ticks found on moose killed during the hunting season was down 41 percent this year. Using a technique developed in Maine, biologists in Vermont searched carcasses for immature ticks in four sample areas on 124 of the 169 moose taken by hunters. They found an average of 15.9 ticks, down from an average of 27.1 last year, the first that Vermont biologists did such a study.
One moose taken this season in northern Vermont had 110 but some in other parts of the state had only a few.
"They do concentrate in certain areas, but without a doubt when you get a count of a hundred ticks in our little sample area, that means there are tens of thousands of ticks on that individual moose," Alexander said.
The ticks are blamed, in part, for a decline in the size of Vermont's moose herd, now estimated to be 2,500 — below the optimum number of between 3,000 and 5,000. Similar reductions have been noted in New Hampshire and Maine. Ticks can cause moose to loose blood and to scratch off their fur, making it harder to withstand cold weather.
Officials in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire issued fewer moose hunting permits this fall, citing the impact of winter ticks on their moose populations. In Minnesota, where ticks are among several factors that have cut the population by more than half in less than a decade, there was no moose hunting season at all.
Alexander said he believed the ticks are the main reason for the moose decline but that the warming climate is also playing a role because Vermont is at the southern edge of moose range. Even within Vermont, the success rate of hunters in the northern part of the state was much higher this year than in southern sections, he said.
Last winter was colder than recent years due to the polar vortex but some say it was more in line with a long-term history of colder winters.
Officials in Maine and New Hampshire haven't completed their tick studies yet.
"Until we look at all the data, I'm going to have absolutely no idea, other than to tell you they haven't gone away," said Kristine Rines, the leader of the moose program for New Hampshire Fish and Game.
"Some animals had very high tick loads and some had almost none," Rines said.
Associated Press writer Lynne Tuohy in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.
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