There was a time, a decade or more ago, that Maine’s wildlife officials were making educated guesses about Maine’s estimated moose population, which was said to be between 20,000 and 30,000 animals.

Wildlife planners did a pretty good job calculating our deer numbers using an assortment of time­tested formulas and indices. Not so with moose. This uncertainty about moose numbers was a focus of concern, and rightly so.

In Maine, moose are an economic commodity. Tourists and native Mainers like to view them, and hunters like to hunt them. (The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife derives a significant portion of its annual operating budget from the sales of moose permits.)

Well­intentioned efforts were made to count moose heads in the Maine woods. One major population census initiative involved the use of aerial infra­red tracking. Some data was gathered but, as I recall, the science was flawed, and the procedure was far too expensive to justify the results.

A few years back some good things began to happen. Wildlife biologist Lee Kantar took on the moose biologist position. Funds began to be available for moose counting. Not only was money available through the Outdoor Heritage Fund, but the national spike in gun and ammo sales made more money available to Maine Fish and Wildlife through the Pittman­ Robertson tax on firearms and ammunition. Sales of hunting equipment jumped nationally from $19 billion on 2008 to $43 billion in 2014!

For the past few years, under Kantar’s stewardship, the state has undertaken a serious, scientifically-­based effort to get a credible handle on Maine moose numbers. Using the funds made available to him, and with the help of helicopters from the Maine Forest Service, Kantar has spent many working winter hours in a helicopter at tree top level counting moose, grid-­by-­grid, in most of the North Woods.

Kantar, who is enthusiastic and confident about the population data that he is gathering, believes that Maine’s moose population was about 70,000 at its peak a few years back. And he readily concedes that we had been underestimating our moose numbers by as much as 50 percent.

A number of harsh winters, grown up clearcuts and some bad tick infestations have had, according to Kantar, a negative impact on the state’s moose numbers.

“Going into the fall of 2015, how many moose do we have in the Maine woods?” I asked Kantar during an interview on my radio program Maine Outdoors.

“Between 60,000 and 70,000,” Kantar said.

At a public hearing in Greenville this spring, wildlife officials got an earful from a number of reportedly unruly and vocal residents who were demanding that the state issue no cow pemits this fall, or even shut down moose hunting altogether in the Greenville area. Residents, who are not seeing moose like they once were, contend that there is danger of extirpating moose in the Greenville area.

Kantar points out that the moose population growth rate is about 4 percent and the hunt permits (2,740 this fall) allow a harvest quota of less than that, about 3 percent.

As Kantar will tell you, he and the Fish and Wildlife Department are obligated by law and tradition to safeguard the moose resource, for moose viewers as well as moose hunters. Ironically, it is possible that an excess of moose in Maine may be exacerbating the moose tick infestations that have taken a lot of young moose.

As we learned during the bear referendum, we need to trust our professional wildlife managers. Lee Kantar is one of these professionals and his ambitious new process for measuring our moose population in any given year should enable him to do his job even better.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co­host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM­FM 103.9, WQVM­FM 101.3) and former information of icer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e­mail address is [email protected] He has two books, “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.”

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