- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

KEENE, N.H. (AP) - At the first of three public hearings on a proposal to reduce the number of New Hampshire moose hunting permits by more than half, the only person who weighed in suggested an outright moratorium.

New Hampshire Fish and Game wildlife biologist Kristine Rines said she wasn’t surprised by the lack of opposition at Monday’s meeting in Keene - the first of three this week. She said hunters in particular want to see the state’s moose herd - beset by winter ticks and brain worm - restored to healthy numbers.

“Everyone’s concerned,” said Rines.

Fish and Game officials propose reducing the number of moose permits issued in this June’s lottery from 275 to 124.

Rines said she’s bracing for the deaths of more moose this month, saying April is when ticks cause the greatest mortality rates. For that reason, officials Monday cautioned that the proposed numbers could change before the Fish and Game Commission meets later this month.

New Hampshire is in the first year of a three-year study on moose mortality and how changing weather patterns are contributing to the population drop. Fish and Game officials earlier this year hired a helicopter wildlife crew to net 43 moose, place tracking collars on them and collect fur, blood and tick samples.

Rines said Monday that seven of the 43 moose have died due to tick infestation. All seven were calves. New Hampshire currently has about 4,400 moose, down from about 7,600 in 1996.

In an average year, a moose might carry about 30,000 ticks. But during a year of severe infestation, that number can be five times higher, Rines said. Unlike deer, moose are not meticulous groomers and have trouble shedding the ticks. Instead, they end up constantly scratching, which depletes their fur and leaves them susceptible to hypothermia, she said.

Fish and Game is a self-sustaining agency and the annual moose lottery is its biggest moneymaker. Last year, more than 13,000 hunters from New Hampshire and out-of-state paid to enter the lottery. The 275 winners then have to pay for special moose hunting permits - $150 for residents and $500 for non-residents.

Ronald Tremblay of Hooksett, who won a moose permit last year after 23 years of trying, said Tuesday he doubts the agency will get nearly as many applicants with such reduced odds of winning a permit.

“It’s going to hit them in the wallet,” Tremblay said. “It’s terrible. I can’t see how somebody’s gonna want to participate with such a small percentage of success rate.”

Tremblay said he doesn’t blame Fish and Game officials for proposing the permit reduction.

“They’re trying to fix a problem,” he said. “They have to address it, or they’re going to lose a substantial amount of revenue.”

New Hampshire has held its moose permit lottery since 1988, when it raffled 75 permits. The most number of permits issued was 675 in 2007.

Monday’s meeting, attended by about 50 hunters, covered proposed changes in hunting rules geared largely to fluctuations in the moose, deer, wild turkey and bear populations. Evening meetings are scheduled in Lancaster on Wednesday and Concord on Thursday.

Vermont regulators also plan to cut the number of moose hunting permits by 20 percent because the herd is below its target population of 3,000 to 5,000.

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