MassWildlife: Brake for moose!

 

Because fall is the breeding season for both moose and white-tailed deer, the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) reminds motorists to be mindful of increased deer and moose activity, especially during early morning and evening hours. September and October is the breeding season for Massachusetts’ moose population found primarily in the central and western areas.  The breeding season (also known as “the rut”) for white-tailed deer closely follows the moose breeding season from late October through early December.

 

Male deer and moose experience “tunnel-vision” during the mating season created by the urge to reproduce. They will often chase females across roads, unaware of motor vehicles. Additionally, because moose have no natural predators in Massachusetts and are protected by law from hunting, these large (500-1,000 lbs) members of the deer family are unconcerned as they move through populated areas. The dark color and height of moose make them difficult to see at night (moose eyes rarely shine like deer eyes because they are above headlight levels).  Long legs and top heavy bodies make moose very dangerous to motorists when struck.

Be aware and heed “Moose and Deer Crossing” signs erected by highway departments and slow down.   Moose are less likely to move from the road than deer; so braking and driving defensively for moose is our best policy.  Police and other departments responding to moose or deer/car collisions are reminded that while drivers or passengers are allowed by law to keep white-tailed deer they have hit with their vehicle (salvaged deer must be officially reported), only the DFW or the Environmental Police can make decisions regarding the disposition of moose. All moose or deer/vehicle collisions should be reported to the Environmental Police (800) 632-8075 and to DFW Wildlife District offices.

The bulls stay with the cows only long enough to breed then leave in pursuit of other cows. Both bulls and cows travel more during this time in pursuit of a mate.  Females can breed as early as 1 ½ years of age.

Moose, like deer, lack a set of upper incisors; they strip off browse and bark rather than snipping it neatly.  During summer, moose prefer to feed in or near clearings and other open areas where they browse on tender leaves, twigs and tree bark as well as aquatic and semi-aquatic vegetation. Grasses, lichens, mosses, mushrooms and other herbaceous plants are also a part of their diet. Winter food mostly consists of needle bearing trees and hardwood bark, buds and twigs.

Only bulls grow antlers. These antlers begin growing in March to early April, completing by August when the velvet is shed. Antlers start dropping in December, though some young bulls retain their antlers until late winter. The bell, the flap of skin and long hair that hangs from the throat, is more pronounced in adult bulls than in cows or immature bulls.

According to DFW, moose have been absent from our state from the early 1700’s.   As recently as the 1970’s a moose sighting was considered a rare sight. So why are they here now?  As early settlers cleared the extensive forests in the state for pastures and farming, moose habitat disappeared along with the moose. This happened through much of New England.  Habitat for moose recovered due in part to farmers moving out to the more fertile Midwest or to factory towns during the Industrial Revolution.

Moose are now reclaiming their former range and moving into areas where they haven’t been seen for hundreds of years.

Moose populations got a boost in northern New England states from a combination of forest cutting practices and lack of moose harvest which created ideal moose habitat and allowed for high reproduction and survival rates. Gradually, as the population increased, moose moved southward into their historic range and by the early 1980’s they moved into northern Worcester and Middlesex Counties and began to breed and disperse through central Massachusetts.

In 2007, MassWildlife biologists estimated 850-950 moose lived in Massachusetts, with the majority of them found in northern Worcester County.  During the year, moose home ranges vary from 5-50 square miles depending on the season.  MassWildlife has been monitoring moose populations through sighting reports, road kills and urban/suburban situations.  A recent study has begun to catch and collar moose to follow them and understand their movements, reproduction and survival rates.

During the breeding season in fall, or the calving season in spring, we are advised to stay a respectful distance away because bulls can be unpredictable and cows can be very protective of their calves.  Keep dogs under control.

Some other interesting facts about moose:  There has been a steep decline in some parts of the US in places such as Minnesota, Montana and New Hampshire.  Some scientists speculate that the underlying cause is climate change (global warming).  Winters have grown substantially shorter across much of the moose’s range.  In NH, a longer fall with less snow has greatly increased the number of winter ticks, a devastating parasite.  “You could get 100,000 ticks on a moose” said Kristine Rines, a biologist with the state’s Fish & Game Dept.

Up in British Columbia, a recent study blamed the decline on the widespread loss of forests caused by the epidemic of pine bark beetles which thrive in warmer weather.  The loss of trees leave the moose exposed to human and animal predators. *****

The Berkshire Hatchery Foundation is having its final kid’s fishing derby of the year on September 13. *****

 

I just returned from a 12 day fishing trip to upper Quebec, Canada which will be written about in future columns.  If you tried to reach me during that period with announcements that you wished to be mentioned in the column, please don’t think I ignored you.  Your input is important and always welcomed.

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