By PATRICK WHITTLE | Associated Press
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Hunters' chances of bagging a Maine moose might be slimmer this year because the state is likely to cut the number of hunting permits to the lowest level in more than a decade.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife is considering issuing 2,815 moose permits, the fewest number in 12 years and a reduction of nearly 10 percent over last year. The hunt for the massive animals is one of Maine's fall traditions, but parasites like winter ticks have hit the herd hard in recent years. The population has fallen from about 76,000 in 2012 to between 60,000 and 70,000 today, state officials said.
But Maine moose biologist Lee Kantar said the proposed cut in permits for 2015 has more to do with the state wildlife department reaching its moose population goals in many parts of Maine. Early indicators show that the 2015 winter wasn't as bad for tick deaths as the previous winter, he said.
“We have to be cautious,” Kantar said, adding that “coming out of this winter, we're already seeing less of an effect” from ticks.
A reduction in the coveted permits means it would be harder to get one in the annual moose lottery. Last year 53,577 people applied for 3,095 permits, 2,795 of which went to state residents. Vermont and New Hampshire, which have more limited moose seasons than Maine, have also cut hunting permits in recent years.
Maine wildlife officials will present their final recommendation to the state Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Advisory Council for approval at the end of the month, department spokesman Mark Latti said. There is also a public hearing scheduled for April 24 in Greenville about how many permits should be allowed in one of the two dozen wildlife management districts granting permits this year.
Don Kleiner, executive director of the Maine Professional Guides Association, said the reduced number of permits might make some hunters and guides unhappy, but it is the right course for the state. He added that some guides even favor the idea of reducing moose permits.
“I'm trusting their research because their science is telling them to reduce the permits. I'm in,” Kleiner said. “Do I have members in specific zones who disagree with their results? Always.”
Last year, 2,022 hunters succeeded in getting a moose, good for a 65 percent success rate but a decline from the prior year. The highest rate of success was in Aroostook County in far northern Maine, where more than 80 percent of hunters harvested a moose in two wildlife management districts.
The 2015 moose hunt is divided into four sessions, the first of which starts on Sept. 28 and ends on Oct. 3. The final session runs Nov. 2 to Nov. 7. There is also a “resident only day” on Halloween.