RUMFORD – How many moose does Maine have? Thirty thousand? Fifty thousand?

No one knows. Estimates range from 30,000 to 60,000.

There are no hard numbers. State biologist Lee Kanter knows some die from winter ticks. Others, from predation. Or they’re hit by a truck. Or poached.

Getting a hard number would help Maine to determine harvest rates, according to George Smith, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

SAM proposes a bill to require the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to dedicate 5 percent of funds generated by the moose lottery to get those hard numbers. It would also dedicate 10 percent of the funds to moose research and health.

People who want to hunt moose enter the Maine moose permit lottery. That’s a chance drawing for a set number of permits available for wildlife management districts.

Smith said the moose bill is SAM’s most significant bill this year “because the department takes in almost $2 million on the lottery and moose hunting and doesn’t spend anything on moose.”

Money from the lottery, along with federal and state funds, finance the department and its wildlife management and conservation programs.

“Could we do a better job? The answer to that is yes, but if you would give us some more money, we would be more than glad to do a better job,” said Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield, chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Smith criticized IF&W for eliminating its moose biologist position in 2008 when Karen Morris, a longtime moose specialist, retired. Her duties were transferred to deer specialist Kantar.

“And so, when New Hampshire reported last summer that 20 percent of their adult moose and 70 percent of their (moose) calves died from ticks last winter, all Maine could say was, probably the same thing happened here. We don’t know,” Smith said.

New Hampshire’s moose population is estimated at 6,000.

“We can’t argue for the correct amount of permits for the hunt, because they don’t know how many moose we have, and so our bill would force them to spend money to do a credible population count every year and to spend money on moose health and management,” Smith said.

Moose population and harvest numbers were debated in the Legislature last year, Bryant said.

“Some people were going around saying that the moose herd could stand 30,000 permits or some ungodly thing. Some people out there are thinking that the herd is well over 60,000 from what the debate was last year,” Bryant said.

“If you were going to harvest 50 percent of your moose, that would be tragic and serious and just way too high of a removal rate,” Kantar said.

Harvest rates must be conservative enough to ensure the herd’s stability yet stringent enough to reduce car-moose collisions and agriculture losses, Kantar said.

To best-guess populations, Maine biologists rely on reports of moose sightings, population reconstruction based on harvest data and car-moose collision numbers.

Last year, hunters killed 2,202 moose; 2,880 permits were issued.

“With all populations, there’s always a lag effect. If you went out and all of a sudden started killing a whole mess of moose … and did that repeatedly, you could have a population that’s declining without knowing it if you’re way too aggressive,” Kantar said.

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