Maine wildlife biologists teamed up with Native Range Capture Services to study moose survival and population in the northeastern part of the United States. They used radio collars to analyze the conditions responsible for the infestation of winter ticks in the moose population and determine the animal's survival skills.

Atop a helicopter, a three-man crew scouts for moose near Moosehead Lake. When a moose is spotted, one of the men jumps from the hovering chopper and wrestles the animal to the ground. The team works quickly, belting the moose's legs to take fecal and blood samples before placing a radio collar on its neck. According to Sam Davison, a seasoned moose handler from the Native Range Capture Services, everything needs to happen in just 10 minutes.

Moose Population Decline

Winter tick infestation has decreased the moose population in Maine and all the way to Alberta in Canada. In New Hampshire, the moose population dropped from 7,000 in the late 1990s to 4,000.

In 2012, Maine's moose population is at an estimated 75,000. Today, however, officials said the population is just around 60,000 to 70,000. In 2014, the winter tick-related mortality caused officials to lessen the state's moose-hunting licenses by 25 percent. The state decreased it by another 9 percent in 2015.

Save The Moose

The research team expanded its coverage to the Aroostook County from the original Jackman/Greenville area. Initially, the team had 70 adult female and one calf moose fashioned with radio collars. The expanded reach included 36 more collared calves for the study.

The two study locations will enable the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists to have a total of 150 moose for the study. New Hampshire has an additional 90 collared moose for monitoring.

The research team also aims to understand the impacts of climate change and a smaller size of moose herds on the winter ticks. According to moose biologist Lee Kantar, there is a theory that a smaller herd can result in decreased cases of infestation.

"There is evidence if you decrease the moose population, the less parasites you'll have. But where is that sweet spot?" said Kantar.

This theory was put to the test in Vermont seven years ago when the state increased its moose-hunting licenses to see if a smaller population will also result in less winter tick infestations.

The Vermont moose population first decreased by half, from 5,000 to 2,500, but the animal's mortality rate continued to rise. In the past years, the moose population in Vermont dropped to 2,000. Experts are uncertain if winter tick infestation is the main culprit.

According to New Hampshire moose biologist Kristine Rines, winter tick infestation can decrease the moose population significantly but the animal will not vanish entirely - at least that's not happening not in the recent case.

What's Next?

In the next two years, the research team will monitor the collared moose population. Upon death, the moose's radio collar will give out a signal so the researchers can immediately locate the animal and determine the cause of death.

The state started collaring the moose population in 2001 but the New Hampshire study showed little findings. Biologists from the various states are hoping the moose population near Moosehead Lake will give crucial findings.

Photo: Ryan Hagerty/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters | Flickr

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