Moose hunting bill moves forward

A bill that would have the state Department of Environmental Conservation develop moose hunting regulations passed the state Senate last week.

Sen. Patrick Gallivan, a Republican from Elma outside of Buffalo, introduced the bill early last year, and the Senate approved it but it died in the Assembly. The Senate approved it again last week, and an Assembly version is now in committee.

The bill would require the DEC to develop rules and regulations for taking moose, along the lines of how deer hunting is regulated in the state. The DEC would have to develop a licensing process as well as a moose hunting season. It would also have to determine an appropriate number of moose that could be shot and how much licenses should cost.

The bill will essentially just add the word “moose” to current hunting regulations.

“This will allow the state to better manage the moose population, provide new opportunities for hunters in New York and neighboring states and generate new revenue for the state,” Gallivan said in a press release last week.

The bill comes at a time when other states with moose populations are cutting back significantly on moose hunting. New Hampshire’s moose population has dropped nearly 50 percent in the last 15 years, from about 7,000 to only 4,000. This year, New Hampshire’s moose tag lottery only had 71 permits awarded as opposed to 675 in 2007. Minnesota ended its moose hunt entirely, and states like Vermont, Maine and Wisconsin have also cut back on moose tags.

The drop in populations likely does not have to do with hunting but rather with an increase in ticks and other diseases. Moose evolved in northern climes where ticks are not as prevalent, but as climate change has made winters less severe, tick populations have grown considerably. Since the moose did not evolve with ticks, they are far less adept at removing the blood suckers than deer are.

Quebec’s Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks conducted a study that found more than 90 percent of moose below the St. Lawrence River were suffering from winter tick infestations. Some of those moose had thousands or even tens of thousands of ticks on them.

DEC Region 5 Wildlife Manager Ed Reed said in January that the department did not yet have a firm grasp on the number of moose that live in New York state. In the past, the DEC has estimated that there are between 600 and 1,000 moose, the vast majority of which live in the Adirondacks. The highest concentration is in the Sable Highlands conservation easement in the towns of Bellmont, Franklin, Saranac and Ellenburg.

The DEC has engaged in a concerted effort to determine the number of moose, their range and success of calving through a tracking program. The program uses nets and tranquilizers to capture the moose, which are then fitted with GPS or radio collars.

The law would amend current conservation law to include moose in the same mix as bears and deer. No trapping would be allowed, and moose could only be taken by bow, gun or crossbow. The same rules that apply to deer and bear would apply to moose as well. Hunters would be prohibited from shooting the animals in water, and jacklights and spotlights would still be illegal.

“The Commissioner may, by rule and regulation, establish a license lottery for moose when conditions warrant control of individual animals or when such big game animals constitute a nuisance population,” one section of the bill reads.

The bill passed the both Rules and Environmental Conservation committees with two dissenting votes, and passed the Senate floor by a vote of 50-10. Sen. Betty Little, whose district covers much of the Adirondacks, voted for the bill in the Environmental Conservation Committee.

Gallivan has put forward versions of this moose hunting bill for many years. In his sponsor’s memo, he justified it by saying, “New York State’s approach to regulating the deer population has, on the whole, been balanced and successful. This bill would apply those same provisions to the moose population.”

The companion bill is sponsored by Assemblyman David DiPietro, also a Buffalo area Republican.

(Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to show that last week’s Senate floor vote on this bill had 10 nays rather than four; four was the number of no votes when the Senate passed it in 2015. More information has been added about the bill’s history and the Assembly companion bill.)