By RIK STEVENS | Associated Press
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Amid worries about the declining number of moose, New Hampshire hunters killed at least the same number of moose as during last year's season, a state biologist said Monday.
As of early Monday, hunters had reported bagging 179 moose over the nine-day hunt, said Kristine Rines, leader of the state's moose project. Rines said a cold snap put more moose on the move after a slow start and allowed hunters to finish the season strong. The state issued 281 permits, the same as last year.
Rines said it is too early to draw any conclusions because the number of moose killed doesn't provide the full picture of the health of the herd. Scientists will get more clues from deer hunters who can roam deeper into less accessible spots and report what they see.
"We do not hang our hat on this count," Rines said. "This is nice. It's nice for the hunters and it's an indication that things haven't changed dramatically but I haven't seen what the hunter effort has been."
The state is at the beginning of a four-year, $695,000 study of the moose population.
There is concern about the strength of the herd, which has been hurt by an explosion in the number of winter ticks. Scientists estimate the state has about 4,500 moose, down from 7,600. Warmer winters allow the tick to flourish, sapping moose of strength and body weight and affecting cows' ability to reproduce.
Rines said scientists are also collecting data on ticks.
Hunters took 97 bulls and 82 cows this year. The highest success rate comparing moose killed to permits issued came in the North region with 87 percent, while the Southeast region had the lowest at 25 percent.
The moose is an important part of the state's ecosystem. The animals browse to keep forests at a young stage, providing better breeding and feeding grounds for songbirds and smaller game species. It's also an economic engine.
"For New Hampshire, the moose has only recently made a comeback from near extinction," Rines said. "It really made a full statewide return in the 1970s and it's very rapidly become an enormous tourist draw."