A North Woods Icon at Risk
Massive and majestic, moose are a cherished wildlife icon of North America. These big mammals require cool climates to thrive, and this aspect of moose biology places the animals in difficult straits as they face a warming climate.
Carbon pollution from burning coal, oil, and gas is causing climate change that is threatening wildlife across the globe. If we don’t make changes soon, the U.S. will continue to have higher annual average temperatures and worsening extreme weather.
People never forget seeing their first moose. But due in part to the effects of climate change, it may well be their last. Moose are being hurt by overheating, disease and tick infestation – all tied to warming temperatures.
Moose are in jeopardy across the U.S. – from New Hampshire and Maine; to Minnesota and Michigan; and even Montana. One of America’s most iconic animals is at risk of becoming just a memory. It's time to take action on climate change.
Declining Moose in New Hampshire
The New Hampshire moose population has plummeted by more than 40 percent in the last decade from over 7,500 moose to just 4,500 today, and biologists attribute some of this decline to increasing parasite loads influenced by shorter winters caused by climate change.
Heat affects moose directly, as summer heat stress leads to dropping weights, a fall in pregnancy rates, and increased vulnerability to predators and disease. When it gets too warm, moose typically seek shelter rather than foraging for nutritious foods needed to keep them healthy. Many New Hampshire cows have been under the weight necessary to successfully bear calves the last few years and are producing fewer calves than they did a decade ago. Many biologists are concerned that they will have a difficult time adapting to climatic variability.
Too Many Ticks
Warmer winters have also caused spikes in the tick populations, further devastating the moose population. Ticks leave moose weakened from blood loss, and many die of anemia. Ticks also leave moose more vulnerable to exposure in the winter after their attempt to rub off the ticks leaves them with hairless patches. Individual moose infested with 150,000 ticks—five times more than normal—have been documented in New Hampshire. After the 2001 winter, of the collared moose in New Hampshire, 75 percent of the calves died along with 20 percent of the adult cows. Over a five year period, ticks accounted for 41 percent of all moose deaths in the state.
Impacts on Recreation
Changes in the earth’s climate directly threaten two treasured wildlife-associated pastimes in northern woods – wildlife watching and recreational hunting. In 2011, 56,000 individuals hunted on New Hampshire’s lands and 630,000 people participated in wildlife watching activities within the state. Wildlife watching and hunting are not just recreational pastimes; they are also a major contributor to the local economy. In 2011 alone, wildlife-associated expenditures brought a total of $556 million to the state of New Hampshire.
However, this rich diversity of fish and game, and the economy that depends on it, is at risk from a warming world. In New Hampshire, declining moose numbers have lead to a 60 percent reduction in moose hunting permits, down from 675 in 2007 to just 275 in 2012.7 As the moose population drops, the recreational activities and associated revenue surrounding the species is sure to follow.
Take Action: How You Can Help Moose
Climate change is the single biggest threat to wildlife this century. Without significant new steps to reduce carbon pollution, our planet is projected to warm by 7 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, with devastating consequences for wildlife.
To ensure the survival of cherished wildlife species like the moose, policies and practices are needed to address climate change. This includes reducing carbon pollution as well as adopting climate-smart approaches to wildlife conservation. We must make a serious effort to reduce carbon pollution at every level – from the choices we make in our households to the policies we adopt as a nation. America needs to embrace the development of responsible clean energy, such as wind and solar. And we must prepare for and manage the impacts of climate change to conserve our wildlife resources.