The Hippo


Apr 18, 2019








Wildlife update
How N.H. animals fared last year and what to look for in 2018

By Ryan Lessard

 New Hampshire wildlife is on the upswing, overall, though there are some species still on the decline or in distress and the threat of future land development could further limit available habitats.

Happy story
The state has seen three strong masting years in a row, according to Dave Anderson at the Forest Society. That means trees are shedding lots of acorns, beechnuts, pignut hickory and fruit — this past year especially saw an “insane” amount of fruit, Anderson said — which means bountiful food for deer and small prey animals like mice.
“So there’s a lot of rodents,” Anderson said. “People are having issues with mice in their houses.”
While that can be a nuisance for humans, it’s good news for larger predator species like bobcats, foxes, coyotes, hawks and owls (barred owls especially). Other animals eating the nuts and fruits, such as deer, are also plentiful.
“The deer population is super high,” Anderson said.
As a result, 2017 was a record year for deer kills during the hunting season, he said. Meanwhile, bears and turkeys were hunted less because they didn’t need to venture closer to humans to scrounge for food; there was plenty in the deeper reaches of the forest.
Beavers and pileated woodpeckers have also been on the rebound in the state. And efforts in recent years to create habitat and reintroduce New England cottontail into the forests have been successful and growing. Last year, a new breeding program was set up for the rabbits at the Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Newington. Over recent years, about 40 acres of new habitat have been set up. And another 10 to 15 acres are due to be made available within the year.
While there are still areas of concern, Anderson said the larger narrative is a positive one for the state’s wildlife.
“Wildlife is a happy story,” Anderson said. “If you look at the big picture, we’re the second most forested state by land area in the U.S. and our forests are getting more mature over the decades, so we have the golden age of wildlife in New Hampshire.”
Species to watch
While bobcats have been growing their population in recent years, fishers have been declining. Anderson said that’s no coincidence. The two species share a lot of the same territory and prey.
“They’re just not competing successfully … at the same part of the dinner table,” Anderson said of the fishers.
Broadly speaking, loons have been increasing their population gradually in the state. But last year, certain communities did not fare well. In the Squam Lake area, biologists only found a single loon chick hatched in the whole area — something that hasn’t happened since 1975. 
Loons are continually threatened by lead fishing tackle, which has been banned though it continues to be the primary driver of loon deaths in the state. Other mysterious factors are causing loon fatalities, and researchers think it may have something to do with possible chemical spills in some Squam Lake tributaries.
Wood turtles are still a species of concern since their numbers still haven’t recovered to where they were years ago. Their greatest threats are poachers who sell them out of state as pets and development that eliminates the rivers and streams they need for habitat.
And timber rattlesnakes are still endangered in the state, having only a single known population left after years of human persecution. The location of the den is a secret known only to biologists at New Hampshire Fish and Game. Some of the options for helping their population rebound include transplants from out of state, but similar programs have been met with fear and pushback in other states. While the snakes are venomous, they are generally docile and not dangerous unless provoked, and in New Hampshire they hibernate for eight months out of the year.
While the recent cold has likely had positive results against invasive insects, such as the hemlock wooly adelgid (which threatens to decimate the region’s hemlock trees) and ticks, it does little to harm the emerald ash borer, which threatens ash trees.
The emerald ash borer, Anderson said, hibernates beneath bark and has glycol in its system, which is a natural antifreeze.
Having a high rodent population from plentiful acorns and nuts means a strong population of white-footed mice. While they can be a pest at homes, their greater public health threat comes from being a reservoir species for Lyme disease. In other words, ticks get Lyme from the mice and pass it on to future hosts, such as humans. 
But Anderson said the extra cold weather has put tick activity on hold, which is an improvement over recent years. He said in 2015, ticks were still questing by Christmas Day because the weather was still warm. 
The cold weather would have also curtailed winter tick activity, which helps moose.
Moose: a mixed bag
According to Kristine Rines, the Moose Project leader at Fish and Game, tick counts on moose were already down at the start of 2017, probably due to the drought conditions in 2016. Because of the reduced tick loads, mortality decreased and productivity increased, she said.
In 2016, 80 percent of the calves and 22 percent of adults had died, mostly due to ticks, by the fall. By Sept. 30, 2017, only 30 percent of calves and 14 percent of adults had died.
More moose are giving birth as well. In 2016, 59 percent of collared cows had calves, while in 2017, 76 percent calved in the spring. 
The Moose Project will be capturing and collaring moose in New Hampshire the middle weeks of January, and a progress report will be out by the end of the month.
Anderson said moose are the “poster child” for climate change in the state. Warm winters and even too-hot summers can distress moose significantly. When it’s too hot in the summer, the cows won’t feed, which means they won’t breed. 
When it’s too warm in the winter, it means ticks are more active. In many cases, that can mean a single moose adult can have up to 125,000 ticks on them, up from 20,000 to 30,000, Anderson said. Too many ticks can cause anemia, and moose also rub off their hair.
While this winter may have given the moose some reprieve from the tick loads of previous winters, the course of climate change is not a straight line and warmer winters may still be in store. 

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