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Late Snow, Lots of Winter Ticks Bad News for NH Moose

Tick infestations of ticks, such as these on the ear of a moose, are signs of trouble for New Hampshire wildlife.  (New Hampshire Fish and Game)
Tick infestations of ticks, such as these on the ear of a moose, are signs of trouble for New Hampshire wildlife. (New Hampshire Fish and Game)
February 22, 2016

CONCORD, N. H. – Late-arriving snow and lots of winter ticks are a deadly combination for the moose population, according to local experts. So far, that's exactly how this winter is shaping up.

Deer have evolved with winter ticks, but moose have not, so ticks can be lethal for a moose. That's why local officials are keeping a close eye on the climate, as well as the population density for deer, moose – and ticks – says Kristine Rines, a wildlife biologist and Moose Project leader for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

"Because we didn't have snow until late December, the collared moose ended up with extremely high numbers of ticks on them," says Rines.

Rines explains the shorter winters don't hurt deer, which can fight off ticks by grooming; but the moose population doesn't have a history of living with ticks, so has not developed effective ways to get rid of them. By springtime, she predicts tick infestations will mean a higher mortality rate for northern moose compared with years past.

Rines points out that species evolve into the areas that support them – and as winters shorten, this is becoming a region that is better for deer. However, deer are prone to several parasites, including ticks, that kill moose.

If climate trends continue, she says, the ticks and other parasites could end up overwhelming the moose population.

"If we continue to get these shorter winters and our deer densities continue to rise, this may in the future be an area that simply will not support moose, because of these higher parasite levels," says Rines. "They will simply die here, and you won't find moose until you go further north."

Local officials already have reduced available moose-hunting permits because more moose than normal are expected to die off this winter.

"We aren't sure what the actual mortality rate will be, but we reduced permits just as a precautionary measure," she says. "They're down to 71 from 105, which is pretty low."

New Hampshire hunters can file for the moose-hunting permit lottery now. The deadline to file is May 27.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NH