More Moose in New York? Reintroduction Is Debated

Upstate hunters, motorists give proposal mixed reviews

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

DO New Yorkers want more moose in their lives?

Some do, and some don't. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is trying to decide whether or not to reintroduce the lumbering moose, often six feet tall just from hoof to shoulder, into upstate New York.

Moose roamed freely in the northern reaches of the state until the 1860s. Within the last decade or so, a few moose have wandered in from New England and Canada.

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New York's moose population is now an estimated 15 to 30. The DEC is weighing whether or not to accelerate that natural migration by bringing in as many as 100 more moose by truck or helicopter.

Conservationists and sportsmen are enthusiastic.

The DEC has drafted a detailed environmental-impact statement and has held 15 informational meetings on the new proposal in various parts of the state during July and August.

Alan Hicks, a senior wildlife biologist with the DEC, says the department may make its moose decision as soon as this winter. Yet further efforts to tap a wider range of public opinion, possibly by poll, may come first, he says.

Public-education efforts clearly would be a vital part of any further DEC move. So far, public reaction to the DEC moose proposal has been mixed.

State officials say some of the skepticism evident at the public meetings is based on misperceptions. Many who voiced negative opinions, for instance, said they distrust the government's ability to do what officials say the government will do. One man said he didn't want a return of the moose because he'd never received the rebate owed him on his tax payment. Other speakers objected to the estimated $1.3 million cost of the program, on grounds that the state cannot afford it. Yet the DEC from the start s aid the cost would be met by voluntary contributions.

One widespread concern among those reluctant to bring moose into the state is the increased potential for car-moose collisions.

Mr. Hicks says projections indicate that there could be from 20-140 annual car-moose collisions in the next 20 years if 100 moose were reintroduced with no attempt to control their population. However, the likelihood of hitting another car is about 285 times greater, he says.

Maine, which has a moose population of about 20,000, second only to Alaska, had 660 car-moose collisions in 1991, says Karen Morris, a biologist with Maine's Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife. She says moose, which eat twigs and leaves, are not aggressive unless they are bothered during the mating season or otherwise cornered, or their offspring are disturbed.

Occasionally, she says, moose do wander into towns. "They really don't cause much trouble if you leave them alone, but they do tend to draw a crowd," she says.

Since moose have few natural predators in northern New York, state officials want to get a law on the books immediately that would authorize limited hunting in the next 20 years or so. This could ensure that the moose population could be kept under control.

"We want to fight the fight now and get that [issue] behind us," says Hicks.

Animal-rights groups oppose the DEC's proposed reintroduction of moose because they are against hunting of any animal. Some of these critics charge that the DEC only wants the moose because it can serve as a new species for hunting.

New York State has brought back a number of other species - from the lynx to the bald eagle and peregrine falcon - to its northern wildernesses.

In exchange for a number of its wild turkeys, Michigan during the 1980s successfully reintroduced 60 moose from Canada's Algonquin Park.

Yet John Hendrickson, a biologist for Michigan's state government, notes that public enthusiasm for the moose project was strong right from the start.

Those who want to bring more moose into the Empire State note that the state's huge Adirondacks Park, where most of the moose would go, is currently celebrating its 100th birthday. The moose, supporters say, will draw more tourists and help the economy.

"The moose is a real symbol of wilderness ... and I think we're incredibly lucky to have this opportunity to bring back an animal that's been gone for over 100 years," says Eric Siy, director of the Adirondacks Campaign of the National Audubon Society.

"This is the year we were hoping this would happen," agrees John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council, another conservation group that supports the DEC proposal. He says that getting a growing moose population here really depends on an extra DEC push since most moose that have walked into New York State are males.

"Reintroduction, especially for threatened or endangered species, can be a very valuable conservation tool," says Michael O'Connell, a senior program officer for the World Wildlife Fund.

Ultimately, the DEC's decision on more moose in New York depends on how many people want the animal to come and how much they want it to come. "We certainly would not want to go forward unless the people in northern New York want it done," says Hicks.

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