The biggest animal to recolonize our region after past extirpation is the Moose. The largest member of the deer family (Cervidae), Moose (Alces alces) hint at the Pleistocene mega-fauna that for epochs prior to arrival of Homo sapiens (us!) shaped North American ecosystems. Sadly, our early hunting forebears wiped out most of the great mammals, including mammoths, glyptodonts, ground sloths, and five hundred pound beavers. Moose survived the Pleistocene overkill, but were for a time relegated to more northerly areas.
Moose have since made an amazing comeback in our region, but their future is far from certain. Moose are a boreal animal, and suffer greatly in hot weather. A warming world will not be kind to Moose. Trouble for Moose is on the rise.
Warming Climate Increases Moose Ticks
Already, in southern parts of their reclaimed original range, particularly in New England, Moose are suffering from terrible infestations of Moose Ticks. Like many furred animals, Moose commonly carry ticks, and Moose Ticks are apparently a native species that specializes in parasitizing the huge deer; but Moose Ticks are becoming unnaturally abundant, with generally milder winters allowing their populations to surge.
In a heart-rending, paradoxical tragedy, some Moose these days in New England are freezing to death, after rubbing off their fur in response to huge tick loads. On some down or weakened Moose, researchers have counted tens of thousands of the blood-sucking arthropods. The great tracker Sue Morse, founder of Keeping Track, showed photos at a wildlife show at the Grange here in Essex a couple years ago of bloody snow-beds where Moose had lain down, squishing enough of the blood-gorged ticks on their belly to leave dark red stains in the snow. This is climatic injustice, a sad reminder of the misery we are already causing other creatures through upsetting natural climate as well as diminishing natural habitat.
Absence of Predators Leads to Suffering
The climate part of this sad story has been told many places. Not so often acknowledged is the predator part of the story — or absence from the story. When they lose their native predators, herbivores eventually suffer, as they over-browse their plant communities. Wolves have been eradicated from most of the East, including parts of the Northeast that Moose have recolonized in recent decades. Wolves are the main natural predator of Moose. In the absence of Wolves, Moose have reached unnaturally high numbers in some parts of northern Maine and likely elsewhere, too, and are overeating the trees and shrubs. This leaves them malnourished and more susceptible to heavy parasite loads.
In short, to assure Moose a healthy long future in our region, we need to curtail carbon emissions to minimize global warming, and reintroduce missing top predators. For controlling White-tail Deer numbers, Cougars are probably most important. For controlling Moose numbers, Wolves are most important.
Continue reading this series: “Adirondack Moose Comeback.”
[Special thanks to Lake Placid based nature conservation photographer Larry Master (www.masterimages.org) for permission to feature several of his photographs in this post.]
Note: The content in this blog post was repurposed and a revised version is included in John Davis’s book Split Rock Wildway: Scouting the Adirondack Park’s Most Diverse Wildlife Corridor published by Essex Editions on Nov. 21, 2017. Learn more about the book and where to buy it at essexeditions.com. Watch the book trailer below.