Keeping Healthy moose Herds
Trends, ticks, and the modern moose hunt
What’s going on with Vermont’s moose herd?” Fish & Wildlife hears this question from the public perhaps more than any other. People express concerns about winter ticks and warming temperatures. They talk about seeing more moose in the woods in the past, or ask what’s being done to promote moose habitat.
The Fish & Wildlife Department is working hard to ensure that the moose herd stays healthy so that this quintessential symbol of Vermont remains a part of our landscape forever.
Moose population trends
Moose first started reappearing in Vermont’s woods in significant numbers in the late 1970s. By the turn of the 21st Century, moose had become so numerous they were starting to destroy habitat, particularly in the Northeast Kingdom. A larger number of moose hunting permits was issued to deliberately reduce the population to come into better balance with available habitat.
Moose thrive in areas with younger forest, which is becoming less common as Vermont’s forests age. We work to maintain a variety of forest ages on department-owned lands and when working with landowners.
Overly dense moose populations and warmer, shorter winters have caused a new problem for moose: winter ticks. The parasites can number in the tens of thousands on a single moose, sucking blood and nutrients from a moose and causing it to rub insulating hair off its body in an attempt to rid itself of the ticks.
Moose brought in to check stations are monitored for winter ticks. On average, moose in Vermont have lower levels of winter ticks than in neighboring New Hampshire or Maine, perhaps due in part to our recent efforts to reduce Vermont’s moose population density. When moose are too densely packed, winter ticks can spread more rapidly.
The moose hunt
Moose thrive at medium densities. When their numbers become overly dense, they can destroy habitat and more easily spread diseases and parasites. Hunting serves as a valuable tool to maintain moose at these medium densities. But hunting also provides opportunities for people to connect with nature and to harvest local, free-range meat from natural habitat. The 2016 moose season continued to allow hunting of both cows and bulls to maintain medium densities in some parts of the state, while most of the state was restricted to bulls-only hunting to promote the growth of the herd. The department’s goal is to increase Vermont’s moose herd statewide, but we will continue to provide hunting opportunities wherever local populations are sufficient.
Moose face an increasing number of challenges, from warmer year-round temperatures to emerging diseases. The foundation of our approach to facing these challenges is to ensure that moose have appropriate and well-connected habitat to flourish.