Behind the numbers: Why moose permit allocations are decreasing

Lee Kantar said he knows newspaper headlines across the state will trumpet the fact the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is planning on decreasing the number of moose permits quite drastically this year.

Fewer moose permits will likely be available to hunters this year. (BDN file photo)

Fewer moose permits will likely be available to hunters this year. (BDN file photo)

Kantar, the state’s moose biologist, said he hopes that Mainers don’t look at those numbers — 600 fewer permits allotted, bringing the total of available moose permits down to 2,140 — and assume the worst about the moose herd overall.

The proposed number of moose permits has passed through the first of three stages in the DIF&W’s rulemaking process. Some minor tinkering may be done over the next two months, but chances are good that the number of permits won’t change much between now and hunting season.

To put those numbers in perspective, this marks the third straight year the number of moose permits has been reduced, after hitting an all-time high of 4,110 in 2013. This year’s total, if it remains near 2,140, would be the lowest number of permits allotted in the state since 1998.

Kantar said he and his fellow biologists focus on small sections of the state, determining how many permits should be allotted in each Wildlife Management District.

In other words, biologists aren’t running around yelling, “The sky is falling! We’ve got to decrease moose permits by 600, statewide!”

But Kantar realizes some folks might take the permit reduction that way.

“People like to say, and the media likes to say, ‘Here’s the total number of permits. You changed it by X percent,’” Kantar said. “I don’t know that [when decisions are being made]. I’m not playing dumb. But I look at every management district, one by one. That’s my concern. The whole is the whole. But that’s not how we manage moose. We manage it, right now, district by district.”

Among the questions biologists ask, according to Kantar: Are there enough bulls? Is the bull-cow ratio at the level we want? How is reproduction?

And after considering those factors, biologists figure out how many moose permits to propose in each district.

Let’s be clear here: Kantar and the state biologists face a largely thankless task, with detractors on both sides waiting to pounce.

Last weekend, I spent several hours at the Cabin Fever Reliever outdoor show in Brewer, and the issue of moose permits was a frequent topic of conversation. Opinions ran the gamut, from those who think shooting a single moose is one too many, to those who think we ought to be issuing twice as many moose permits as we do.

Some think the biologists aren’t seeing the whole picture. Those folks, I ought to mention, typically begin their tirades with “I’ll tell you what I’m seeing,” then proceed to tell you that in their particular (and tiny) favorite area, there are either too many moose or no moose at all.

Scientists call these reports “anecdotal.”

I call ’em “hearsay.”

Those who share these tales often call their observations the gospel truth, and concrete evidence that, data-be-damned, the rest of the state is in the same situation.

As Kantar points out, it’s easy for folks to sit back and fret about moose after hearing about a reduction of 600 permits in a year, and nearly 2,000 permits over three years.

In fact, the number of moose permits will only be reduced in five of the 24 WMDs where moose hunting is allowed. Zones 1-4, which are in the northern part of the state, and 19, which has Grand Lake Stream as its center, are the ones affected.

A total of 330 cow moose permits have been eliminated in those zones, including 150 in WMD 4 alone.

Kantar said those reductions don’t reflect a crisis, though portions of the moose herd have been affected by winter ticks. Instead, the decrease in permit numbers can indicate that department population goals have been reached in those zones.

Aerial surveys over the past few years has added plenty of data about the moose population and its composition — how many bulls to cows — and biologists have been able to use that information in trying to reach management goals, Kantar said.

“The data showed that we were above the public target for how many moose people wanted out there,” Kantar said, explaining why the state allowed some cow moose to be taken in certain zones in the past. “There was going to be a time period in which those permits for cows was going to be reduced or go away when we hit that target. That was inevitable.”

And that happened this year.

Kantar said another challenge can crop up: The DIF&W is in the process of putting together its next long-range management plan for moose, and meetings are scheduled for the coming months. In those meetings, different user groups, including hunters, wildlife watchers and animal rights groups, will have the chance to weigh in on future management decisions.

But right now, the biologists are still using the 15-year plan established in 2000 as their template.

“But again, the major difference is we have better data,” Kantar said. “That’s why we increased to over 4,000 permits a few years ago, because we had a good fix on the number of moose out there and we could afford to do that.”

Now, with moose “productivity” lagging a bit, Kantar said it made sense to adjust numbers in a few WMDs.

And while it’s possible for people on either side of the issue to feel that too many — or not enough — moose are being shot each year, Kantar assured the public that he and his fellow biologists are listening to what they’re hearing.

“Whatever people are seeing on the landscape — less, more, whatever — we’re balancing all those numbers with all the different things people want to have,” Kantar said. “People want to have moose to enjoy. We know that. People want to conserve moose for future generations. That’s job number one.”

And that, fortunately, is a sentiment that most of us can agree with.

John Holyoke can be reached at or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.