Moose hunt continues to be curtailed

Only 51 people will be allowed to hunt a moose in New Hampshire next fall, just 7 percent of the number who could participate a decade ago, as the iconic mammal continues to struggle with disease and parasites.

The number of permits was approved by the Fish and Game Commission at its February meeting. It is subject to public hearings as part of the state’s rulemaking process before it becomes final.

The figure is a drop from last year’s tally of 71 permits and 105 the year before. In 2007, the state issued 678 permits, reflecting how the state’s moose herd continues to struggle.

Moose hunting permits are assigned by geography. The 2017 proposal would, for the first time, allow no moose hunting at all in the state’s southwest corner, covering Wildlife Management Unit H2, which includes Keene and most of Carroll County and Unit K, which covers the western two-thirds of Hillsborough County.

New Hampshire had fewer than 100 moose in the 1950s after decades of hunting and loss of woodlands to farms and development. At that point, hunting ended and conservation efforts kicked off, but by 1998 the population had rebounded to more than 7,000.

The moose hunt was restarted that year, when 75 moose hunting permits were given out, a figure that was increased annually as it didn’t seem to hurt the moose population.

But by the late 2000s, this began to change, and moose in the southern part of the state were affected by brainworm, a disease carried by deer, while those in the northern part were affected by winter ticks. The ticks thrive in such numbers that they can cause anemia in adults and kill young calves. A program to tag moose with radio collars indicates that the death rate among newborn moose in New Hampshire is as high as 70 percent.

The state’s moose population has fallen to perhaps 4,000 today, roughly the number when the hunt was reinstated in 1989.

The number of permits issued to hunters has been reduced since.

The moose hunt remains very popular. More than 8,000 people applied for a permit last year. Hunters from seven different states won permits in the lottery.

Moose is one of four species – along with grouse, woodcock and black duck – that are hunted in New Hampshire even though they are also listed on the state’s list of Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

"None of these species (are) listed due to concerns caused by hunting or fishing pressure," Fish and Game says on their website. "For moose, the concern is if habitat impacts and climate changes continue unchecked, it will result in an environment that is no longer capable of supporting moose."

David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.