December 18th, 2013 by

The fur loss on this young moose on Mount Washington in New Hampshire could be a result of his efforts to rid himself of ticks. Credit: Ernie Mills Photography / Mt. Washington Auto Road.

In my home state of Vermont, moose sightings were a regular part of my childhood, but for today’s children they might be a rare treat. Just since 2005, the state’s moose population has nearly halved. Next door neighbor New Hampshire has seen their moose population decline by a third in recent years.

The most likely suspect? Winter ticks. The declines in moose seem to go hand in hand in with surges of the ticks. But what would cause the tick population to surge? Warmer winters, for one thing. The ticks die when they drop from their elaphine host onto the snow. But when the ground is bare, they live to reproduce. Moose are not social animals like deer; they lack the grooming practices to keep the ticks in check. And if you’ve ever had a pet with a tick, you know what a pain the little buggers can be. In their efforts to be rid of the pain and irritation of the ticks, moose often end up tearing out their own fur. That is, the fur that is one of their most important adaptations for the harsh winter climates they call home. The conclusion of this horrible chain of events is that the moose — that symbol of snowy, northern lands so well adapted to the cold — can actually die of hypothermia.

New Hampshire has already cut the number of moose hunting licenses in half in an effort to counterbalance the population decline. In the long term, though, one way to help combat these sad stories is to combat the rapid climate change that nature is unable to keep pace with. It’s one of the reasons American Forests works so hard to protect and restore forests, one of our planet’s important carbon sinks. Our Global ReLeaf projects in northern New England have included our Riparian Tree Planting in Vermont’s Green Mountain Forest, where we’re partnering with the U.S. Forest Service and local volunteers to plant 4,000 trees.

The northeast is not the only area suffering from a decline in moose populations. And while climate change is a driver of this decline across North America, its effects take many forms. Visit us here on Loose Leaf tomorrow to for Part II of what’s hurting moose in other parts of the continent.