A Social-Ecological Examination of Moose in Maine: Habitat, Management, and Changing Seasonality
Date of Award
Level of Access Assigned by Author
Master of Science (MS)
Sandra De Urioste-Stone
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Maine is a New England state with rich ecosystems and diverse opportunities for enjoying the outdoors. Maine is well known as a popular nature-based tourist destination, and is often associated with its notable moose population. Social-ecological systems in Maine are highly intertwined, and as such, are especially susceptible to impacts resulting from climate change. Moose health in the state is already being negatively impacted by climate change with high infestation rates of winter tick resulting in declining moose health and high moose calf mortality. Given that late winter is a time of high stress and increased mortality of moose due to low resource availability, high energy use, and higher winter tick infestation; understanding winter habitat selection of moose in the context of changing winter weather conditions will be essential in determining how climate change will impact moose landscape use in Maine. Wildlife management is a key mechanism in moderating the relationship between people and wildlife, addressing wildlife diseases and parasites, and maintaining wildlife habitat. Moose management in Maine is essential for maintaining a healthy moose population, providing moose hunting and viewing opportunities, and reducing moose-vehicle collisions. Moose management in Maine is conducted by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) and the Wabanaki tribes; policy and management decisions can be guided by stakeholder perceptions and attitudes toward management strategies since part of managing wildlife is meeting the needs and desires of people. This thesis explores the human-moose social-ecological system in Maine with a transdisciplinary approach, and employs a participatory approach to understand the effects of climate change on a social-ecological system to develop related solutions in a tourism dependent community. The aim of this research is to better understand moose landscape use in the context of changing winters, as well as perceptions and support of management strategies addressing moose parasitism in Maine. This thesis has three components: (1) characterization of winter habitat of adult moose; (2) survey of outdoor recreationists; and (3) participatory climate change planning. First, we identified winter habitat selection of adult female moose over the course of six years to explore the potential influence of winter weather and forest composition on moose landscape use. We found that moose selected forested areas to a greater extent than other land cover classes and selected all forest types, deciduous, evergreen, and mixed, equally. We found no influence of snow depth on these mature forest types; however, our results demonstrated increased selection of regenerating forests in years with lower snow density. These results have implications for moose distribution on the winter landscape, and impacts on regenerating forests in Maine and winter weather conditions continue to vary because of climate change. Second, we conducted a survey of moose hunters (in-state and out-of-state) and Maine recreationists to better understand perceptions of moose health, attitudes towards various management strategies, and confidence in MDIFW management efforts. We explored if differences between moose hunters, non-moose hunters, and non-hunters existed in terms of perceptions of moose health in Maine as well as their potential support of specific moose management strategies. We found that beliefs about moose health in Maine were largely moderate, and there was no difference in concerns about moose and winter tick parasitism among groups. Moose hunting was seen as an important part of managing a healthy moose population among all groups. Moose hunters were found to be the most comfortable with increasing moose hunting to reduce parasitism, followed by non-moose hunters. There was no statistically significant difference between groups regarding whether increasing moose hunting to reduce parasitism would have a strong positive or strong negative impact on moose population health. Intention to support moose hunting as a management strategy was neutral with no difference among groups. Confidence in agency management was statistically different between non-hunters and moose hunters, and between non-hunters and non-moose hunters. Self-reported feelings of being up to date on information regarding current moose population health and management was different among all groups, with moose hunters reporting being the most up to date. Further, understanding the impacts and perceptions of climate change needs to be paired with action in order to adapt to changes and promote resilient social-ecological systems. The final research component of this thesis was the joint development and implementation of a series of participatory planning workshops on community climate change adaptation and mitigation. The participatory process used reinforced the idea that collaborative planning and stakeholder driven solution development are key to identifying locally relevant priorities and feasible action steps. There are many social-ecological systems in Maine that are vulnerable to climate change, including the human-moose system; hence, interdisciplinary approaches that integrate biophysical and social science research efforts are essential to addressing impacts to these complex systems into the future.
DiMatteo-LePape, Asha, "A Social-Ecological Examination of Moose in Maine: Habitat, Management, and Changing Seasonality" (2021). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 3417.