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NE Moose Population Decline Sparing MA So Far

PHOTO: Some of New England's moose population is in decline and a leading wildlife biologist is blaming climate change for bolstering the winter ticks that feed on the iconic mammals. Courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
PHOTO: Some of New England's moose population is in decline and a leading wildlife biologist is blaming climate change for bolstering the winter ticks that feed on the iconic mammals. Courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
April 1, 2013

BOSTON - The Massachusetts moose population is so far not affected by the problems in neighboring New Hampshire, where the number of the animals is declining, especially in the White Mountains and the Central region. Shorter and warmer winters, linked to global climate change, are being blamed.

In late winter, ticks feed on the blood supply of host moose. In April, the ticks begin to fall off, and if there's snow on the ground this month, they will die. But shorter winters have boosted the winter tick population and that is killing off moose at an alarming rate as well as lowering cow weights.

According to biologist Kristine Rines, moose in the Bay State have much less dense populations than in New Hampshire.

"So, at very low densities of moose, you just don't develop that buildup of ticks, so you don't really see this problem," she stated.

Another cause of moose mortality is brain worm, a parasite which causes neurological damage to the animals. And regarding still another problem, Vermont has recorded a dramatic decline in the weight of moose cows, which can adversely affect the birth rate.

Rines remarked that dramatic declines in moose numbers in Minnesota and Nova Scotia are being eyed warily by New England biologists who, like many residents, treasure the iconic animals.

"Well, people love to watch them and people like to hunt them and people like to eat them," she noted. "And I think people just like knowing they're here, and as long as we have enough moose to provide hunting opportunities, we'll do that."

Rines said she believes that at least in the lower latitudes, moose are endangered by global warming.

"You know it's a balancing act and there are parts of that act over which we have absolutely no control," she pointed out." And that is the weather. So we'll just have to see how things sugar off. There's much that we do not know about what the future holds."

Rines does have a suggestion: pray for snow.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - MA