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Your questions about Vermont's moose, answered

A wood sign with faded orange paint along the side of the road reads "Official moose weighing station"
Lexi Krupp
Vermont Public
About 1,000 moose — the majority of the state's population — live in the northeastern corner of the state.

Many of Vermont's moose have struggled in recent years due to the rise in winter ticks that feast on moose blood. This winter, Vermont Fish & Wildlife recommended issuing 180 more moose hunting permitsto reduce the impact of winter ticks.

Wildlife biologist Nick Fortin joined Vermont Edition to answer some commonly asked questions about the state's moose.

The ticks sound bad. How are the moose holding up?

"Our moose actually aren't doing as bad as some people might think," Fortin said. "Certainly, they have declined in recent years. But as far as we can tell, right now, our population seemed to be stable." For the past five years, the state's moose population has remained about the same.

What's unique about winter ticks?

Winter ticks are a different beast entirely from the ones that come in contact with humans, like deer ticks or dog ticks. If you get a tick on you, it'll typically stay on you and feed for two to three days. Winter ticks, however, find a host in the fall and stay latched on through the winter — often up to six months.

Some large mammals like deer groom themselves regularly, and in the process they knock off the winter ticks. Because moose evolved in the north, where historically there haven't been any external parasites, they never learned to groom. "Moose can carry tens of thousands of these ticks," Fortin said.

Why issue more hunting permits?

The goal is to reduce the density of moose in order to limit the ticks' ability to spread from animal to animal. Fortin said most of the feedback they've received on the proposal, which is in its public comment period, has been supportive. "I don't know if they like the fact that we have to reduce those numbers further, but they understand the reasoning," he said. "Ultimately, we all want healthy moose."

Is it possible to specifically target moose that are already weakened by winter ticks?

Not really, Fortin said. Moose hunting season is in the fall, and at that point, most moose seem pretty healthy. The number of ticks they'll attract has nothing to do with their condition in the fall — it's just whether they happen to walk by ticks or not, he said, "and there's really no way to predict that."

What about targeting the ticks instead of the moose?

There's ongoing research into treating ticks, particularly on a small scale like a backyard. But Essex County is comprised of 650 square miles of remote forest land, and treating that vast of a landscape would be impossible, Fortin said.

Is it safe to eat the meat of a moose with ticks on it?

Yes. Winter ticks do not carry any diseases or pathogens. Plus, moose shot during hunting season in October are unlikely to have many ticks on them.

What are the other big challenges moose face?

White tailed deer often carry a parasite called brainworm. It doesn't harm the deer, but it can be fatal to moose.

Habitat quality is also a limiting factor for the state's moose population. Moose eat leaves and twigs growing in the lower eight feet of a forest. That type of growth is more plentiful in younger forests with robust understories. Most of Vermont's mature forestsdon't have much food for moose.

Broadcast at noon Thursday, March 14, 2024; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Have questions, comments, or tips? Send us a message or check us out on Instagram.

Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.