From Moose to Mainers, the State of Ticks in Maine

In this episode, we interview Lee Kantar and Griffin Dill on the impacts of ticks on Maine wildlife and communities. Lee Kantar is a moose biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. He was awarded the Distinguished Moose Biologist Award by his peers at the 53rd North American Moose Conference. Griffin Dill manages the Tick Lab within the Diagnostic and Research Laboratory. 

[00:00:00] Eric Miller: Hello, and welcome back to Maine Policy Matters, the official podcast of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine, where we discuss the policy matters that are most important to Maine’s people and why Maine policy matters at the local, state, and national levels. My name is Eric Miller, and I’ll be your host.

[00:00:25] Today, we’ll be interviewing Lee Kantar and Griffin Dill on the impacts of ticks on Maine wildlife and communities. Lee Kantar is a moose biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. He was awarded the Distinguished Moose Biologist Award by his peers at the 53rd North American Moose Conference.

[00:00:43] Griffin Dill manages the Tick Lab within the Diagnostic and Research Laboratory. He coordinates the Integrated Tick Management Program, including the Tick Identification and Tick Borne Disease Testing Services. Griffin also offers support to clients on wildlife related issues, and assists in other integrated pest management programs, including Potato Integrated Pest Management and Home and Garden Integrated Pest Management.

[00:01:11] Maine has one of the highest rates of Lyme disease in the country, and cases continue to rise. In 2023, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 2,706 cases of Lyme disease. Following a record of more than 2,617 cases in 2022, this follows an upward trend of Lyme disease cases between 2010 and 2019.

[00:01:37] In 2010, there were 752 reported cases of Lyme disease. In the next decade, there were an increase to 1,215 in 2015 and 2,079 in 2019. Due to warmer winters and longer summers, deer ticks, the primary carrier of Lyme disease in Maine are expanding their range and increasing their numbers. This means more people are encountering ticks in areas where they weren’t previously a problem.

[00:02:06] In a Maine Policy Review article titled, “What Is Too Cold? Recess and Physical Education Weather Policies in Maine Elementary Schools“, the authors cite an interview with a school principal who responded, quote: Recently, ticks have been more of a concern. My wife started bringing it up. How can you have students go work on the trails? It’s interesting that my own wife is questioning what I’m doing because of the ticks. She wouldn’t question it because of the weather, but she would question it because of the ticks. End quote.

[00:02:37] Fifteen different tick species have been found in Maine, though not all are permanent residents. Some may arrive in the state on wildlife hosts and do not establish viable populations. Other species have thrived in Maine and are now widespread throughout much of the state. Much of Maine’s wildlife is affected by ticks. The rapid increase of

[00:02:57] winter ticks due to climate change is impacting the health and reproduction of the moose population. The winter tick is a small external parasite that, like all of Maine’s 15 tick species, survives on the blood of animals.

[00:03:11] Though they are capable of feeding on many different species, they most commonly feed on moose. Unlike other ticks, winter ticks are not known to spread disease. However, they can be deadly to a moose less than one year of age and lower cow reproductivity. Let’s turn to the experts for an in depth look and conversation about Maine’s ticks.

[00:03:36] Hi, Lee and Griffin. Thank you all for joining us today.

[00:03:39] Lee Kantar: Thanks for having me.

[00:03:41] Eric Miller: How is the expanding range and increasing number of ticks impacting Maine’s wildlife populations? Lee, we’ll start with you.

[00:03:48] Lee Kantar: Well, you know, one part of that question is that there’s multiple species of ticks, right? And that’s something that always needs to be discussed, especially when we’re talking about wildlife, because of course, my expertise and what I deal with primarily is, uh, moose and the winter tick, which it’s its own species of tick.

[00:04:07] Griffin will help me out on this, but a lot of people don’t understand when you say winter tick that it’s its own species. They think we’re talking about all these other ticks that people see, like the deer tick or the dog tick, but it’s just some cutesy name or something. But the winter tick, sometimes it’s called the moose tick, has a different life cycle than these other guys.

[00:04:25] And that life cycle where it’s an egg mass and hatches out to a larvae, then a nymph and an adult takes place just essentially less than a year. And it does so on the back of 1 animal, because for each life stage, it has to take a blood meal. The other tick species like deer ticks, etcetera will take a blood meal from one organism, drop off, and then get it from another one.

[00:04:48] So the problem with winter tick is that, you know, it likes moose, we all like moose, but when it gets on the moose in the fall versus another animal like a deer or something else, the moose doesn’t realize that the ticks and the masses of ticks are on it. And so, once those larval tick are on the moose, they’re there for the wintertime doing their nasty deeds and only later on does the moose realize that and can combat that, but it has some pretty profound effects that we can talk about or elaborate on.

[00:05:19] Eric Miller: All right, excellent. Yeah, I mean, I’m already learning things and we just got started. Because my conception of a tick life cycle is, is often discussed with, and how large the hatch is based on the harshness of the winter and the moisture and how much snowfall there is. And it seems that the winter tick seems to be doing really its own thing. And it is. Griffin, is there anything you’d like to add to that?

[00:05:42] Griffin Dill: Yeah, I mean, I mean, the question about the impacts on wildlife populations, I think Lee made a really good point in that with all these different species of ticks occurring here in the state of Maine, some of them are really very host specific.

[00:05:56] So we mentioned the winter tick having a particular kind of affinity for moose and other large wildlife species. I mean, we have other tick species that primarily feed on, you know, rodents, mice, chipmunks, things like that. There are certain species that almost exclusively feed on birds. And then we have some of these generalist feeders.

[00:06:14] So the things like the deer tick and the dog tick will feed on whatever happens to walk past, whether it be a wild animal, a domestic pet or livestock, or of course people, as far as their individual impacts. A lot of the times we’re seeing relatively few or minor impacts on the wildlife hosts. They may have some You know, minor health issues that relate to heavy infestations of ticks, but until you get to the issue of winter ticks and moose, a lot of our wildlife populations tend to be relatively unimpacted by ticks that they carry.

[00:06:50] Lee Kantar: I would say that what people need to understand is that, and obviously relative to the winter tick, is that the way that winter ticks impact moose is by the feeding on them in mass and the subsequent loss of blood. Not only a little bit over time, over the winter, but also in a more, uh, smaller window when the adults are feeding.

[00:07:11] But ticks, as we can also talk about, and Griffin more than me, is that a deer tick obviously feeding off a human. The deer ticks are the notorious tick for being able to spread human vector borne diseases. That’s the one that people have to really be wary about. And that’s a very different thing because the deer tick isn’t bothering you by taking your blood.

[00:07:34] It’s bothering you by essentially injecting you with a disease that can be extreme and cause harm, whether that’s talking about Lyme disease or anaplasma or something like that. But so the dynamic with winter tick is that as far as we know, our conventional wisdom, our science is telling us and what we’ve seen is that winter ticks do not spread disease.

[00:07:54] Their impact is felt with that incredible loss of blood on moose and especially small moose. And when I say small moose, we’re really talking about calves born in May that are trying to get to their first birthday the following May and being impacted that March and April before they turn one years old.

[00:08:13] Eric Miller: Gotcha. And with this expanding range and number of ticks and the Gulf of Maine being one of the fastest forming bodies of water in the world and climate change and how it’s manifesting in Maine, how is that impacting the spread of ticks and tick-borne illnesses in Maine? Griffin, we’ll start with you.

[00:08:33] Griffin Dill: Yeah. So I mean, I think one of the big impacts we’re seeing that’s related to climate change is our winters. We’re experiencing kind of shorter winters, warmer winters. The ticks are able to more easily complete their life cycle. The deer tick in particular undergoes a two-year life cycle. So it’s overwintering as an immature, potentially again, as an adult.

[00:08:56] And so when we have these warm winters, these shorter winters, they’re much easier and much more adept at surviving than they would be otherwise, if we’re having kind of our more traditional main winter where it’s cold and we’re experiencing those freezing and subzero temperatures frequently. You know, the past five, six years, we continuously are seeing these stretches in January, February, March, where it’s 40, 45 degrees and the deer tick in particular is active really anytime it’s above freezing.

[00:09:28] Well, once we hit that 40-degree mark, they can really be particularly active. So. You know, here at the humane tick lab, we generally have kind of seen quote unquote tick season in the past where, you know, kind of spring, summer, fall, and then you have the winter off to go do other things. Now, with with these kind of warmer and shorter winters, we’re, we’re receiving tick submissions here at the lab all 12 months of the year. So people are being exposed to ticks. The risk is still potentially there even in those cold winter months. So certainly just from a kind of seasonality standpoint, the change in winter temperature really seems to be a big driver in kind of expanding tick populations and expanding our exposure to them.

[00:10:12] Eric Miller: I see. And you mentioned the winter tick is on its own schedule. How are these seasonal changes and expanded range affecting moose populations?

[00:10:22] Lee Kantar: I don’t know for the winter tick, if you’d really talk, it’s not so much range expansion because winter ticks have really, I can almost say they’ve always been here, but we can pretty much date winter ticks back to the twenties or thirties in our records. And I’m talking about the 1920s and thirties, not the wherever we are today, which is, too futuristic for me, but so they’ve been around the question is, is that why in the last maybe as as far back as 20 years now, their populations within the core moose range have essentially exploded or at least gotten to the point.

[00:10:59] Where they’re impacting and driving moose populations in the northeast. So the partial answer to that is this combination of climate change, just like Griffin said, where you have a shorter winter. The winters are incredibly erratic, as you know. I mean, it’s what we’re experiencing right now. It’s just been typical and it’s crazy.

[00:11:20] It drives us crazy, especially trying to catch moose like we did this last week. But once the winter tick larvae are on the backs of the moose in the fall, the irony of this is the winter tick doesn’t care. It can be 45 degrees in January or minus 45 degrees in January. That doesn’t matter. They’re on the back of the moose.

[00:11:38] That is their home. They’re going through their life cycles. And feeding off those moose until if they’re successful dropping off as adults in April, maybe into the beginning of May, where the adult female at that point, she’s bred with the male on the moose and then drops off and she lays her massive eggs to start life all over again for them.

[00:12:02] And then the male typically dies. We are still working on investigating. The ecology, so to speak, that’s being nice to a winter tick, but it’s complicated, you know, people want to know the details and with its life cycle, the way it is on the moose, moose densities across the range, the way the habitat is, it’s a very challenging thing.

[00:12:23] We can tell you what that trend looks like over time and how it may impact moose this coming spring, but why some of these changes have occurred beyond clearly shortness of winter, which creates what that does. Fall comes in and those larvae are waiting to ambush a moose on a, on a plant. They’re waiting for something to come by like a moose.

[00:12:46] The longer we have very little snow and mild winters, every day going into the fall, the moose is walking through the woods, acquiring more ticks. So the dynamic that we see is that if fall and winter weather comes in early, that’s going to shut down the ability of those larval ticks to ambush and get on a moose.

[00:13:09] But if that doesn’t happen, and we just day after day, and it’s mild out, more ticks get on the moose to the point where we see, and we’ve done the science and the math. I mean, I can’t count that high, but you know, we’re talking about winter ticks being in the numbers of as high as 90,000 or more ticks on a single animal.

[00:13:30] And you’ve got to ratchet that forward to when the adult female, one adult female on a moose is taking over a mil of blood. A mil is a big thing of blood. That’s one tick. So you have to understand that if you have. Let’s just make it easy math. 60,000 winter ticks overwintering on the moose and half of those are females.

[00:13:52] That’s 30,000 mils of blood eventually that is being extracted from moose. You do the math, that’s so much blood volume that moose cannot replenish that blood, especially on a diet that’s devoid of protein over the wintertime. They don’t have the elements to build their blood supply. They become very anemic, listless, they, they can rub their hair off.

[00:14:11] They spend time trying to groom those ticks instead of ruminating, bedding, feeding, and then ultimately these moose, these younger moose can lose 100 pounds, 25, 30 percent of their body weight that they have right now in January, and then they’ll die come March, April. So that’s, that’s a succinct story of how ugly that gets.

[00:14:33] Griffin Dill: Yeah, I mean, so, so Lee, you know, hits on that heavy infestation part with the winter ticks and the moose and a lot of that is a function of kind of the differences in the way winter ticks quest. And I think you mentioned that a little bit as we kick this off and that when we’re thinking of the other tick species that we encounter, the deer ticks, the dog ticks, if you’re in a really heavily infested area.

[00:14:54] You may pick up three or four as you walk through the vegetation, the winter tick, those tiny little winter tick larvae are clustering together in the vegetation. And so they exhibit a behavior known as questing. It’s really simple. It’s just they’re sitting there in the vegetation with their front legs out waving, hoping something’s going to walk by.

[00:15:12] In this case, if it is a moose or another host, a couple of those larval winter ticks grab on. And then the rest of them in that cluster kind of hold on to each other. So instead of pulling on one or two of these ticks like we normally would with the other tick species, they’re pulling on this entire cluster of a couple hundred to a couple thousand winter tick larvae in one fell swoop.

[00:15:34] That really gets at how those just added, adding a few extra days of the moose wandering through that vegetation, how that infestation rate can climb so astronomically high, given that each one of those encounters can lead to several hundred or several thousand larval ticks on that single animal.

[00:15:51] Eric Miller: Wow.

[00:15:51] That is an incredible evolutionary feat that the winter tick has developed. And you imagine, like, the lore around the moose is like this infallible, great creature that can’t, that’s basically indestructible, and to think of the fact that Ticks can take down usually calves, but can you serve so much blood that it would actually kill the animal is incredible.

[00:16:14] Lee Kantar: One thing too, is that I’ve written little pieces calling it the tiny terror or it’s a predator, you know, is what it winds up being because of the number of young movies that can kill.

[00:16:26] And now when we mentioned calf, like I call it a calf, it’s not what people picture, you know, people picture a calf, which truly is a moose that’s born in May. And it’s really small, relatively small, 35 pounds at birth. The impact that these ticks are really having, again, is on that moose before its first birthday.

[00:16:44] So it’s really almost a yearling at that point. So the moose that we just caught this past week, they were born in May. They’re essentially seven, eight months old. Depending on when they were bred and so they look like they’re obviously a much bigger calf at that point, but I don’t want people to confuse that.

[00:16:59] This is not happening to the newborns in June. This is happening to the ones over the wintertime. I’d always call them overwintering calves. We would call them short yearlings. It gets complicated in people’s minds, but we’re talking about an animal. To the point about the size of the tick is that these animals we’re capturing, I’m looking at a few capture sheets.

[00:17:20] I, I just got today, the last batch I got a 465-pound animal. So you have a 465-pound animal that was caught yesterday or our last day. That with the tick load on this, this one here, you know, if this one succumbs to heavy tick it’s not going to weight 465 come April, it’s going to be well under 350 pounds.

[00:17:39] And that’s only 12 weeks from now or whatever the math is, it’s not a long, so they, it’s a rapid way of loss.

[00:17:45] Eric Miller: You mentioned the trends you’d been seeing, uh, before we, I’d like to hear more about that as it relates to Maine’s moose management plan and your role in it.

[00:17:57] Lee Kantar: We’re very fortunate in our state, I believe, relative to some other New England states with how we’re built here.

[00:18:03] In the Bangor office that I work out of, we have species specialists that deal with every critter. We’re talking from invertebrates, butterflies, and all that, freshwater mussels, all the way up to moose in the state of Maine. And so we have people that, that’s what they’re dedicated to do. All I deal with is moose.

[00:18:20] In other states, some of the folks have to do other critters as well. So we really are able to focus a lot of. Time and energy and ultimately resources on some of these met. Well, all these. Amazing wildlife we have in Maine, but the way we manage moves is driven by a very important and very big scaled public consultation.

[00:18:41] Essentially is what you can call it, which is every. It used to be every 15 years. We develop a new plan. Based on what the public would like to see happen with moose, you know, we want to make sure there’s enough moose out there on the landscape. People want to view moose. People want to hunt moose. Our mission for our department is the conservation of wildlife, our species planning.

[00:19:02] Now, we’re doing it on a 10 year basis. And now when we go to consult the public, as opposed to years ago, how do people get their information today? They’re not reading the, no offense to the Bangor News, but Um, I don’t even know, do they make a physical paper anymore? I’m not sure. The number of outlets for the media and how people get their news and get their information, you know, way better than me.

[00:19:25] It’s just, it’s astounding. You know, all the social media stuff, whatever. So the last time we started our process for the new management plan, which was in, I guess it was 2016. That’s behind us. I’m kind of lost with the years, but, so that plan is supposed to go from essentially 2017 to 2027. Again, I’m not sure that’s actually a year.

[00:19:44] We actually hire an outside group to survey the public because now you’ve got to survey the public on social media. You don’t just call up a phone because the part of the public opinion, public survey, what do you know about moose thing needs to go to everybody. We need to capture everybody. So it’s a scientific social survey to get this information.

[00:20:04] So that drives what our goals and objectives are for moose. Right. Again, like I said, we’ve been very fortunate because in order to manage moose and conserve moose for the future, you need to have the science and the survey data to know what’s out there. And, well, it’s well over a decade now. We, of course, we fly aerial surveys.

[00:20:23] We’ve been putting GPS collars on moose through aerial survey capture for 11 years now. We just completed our 11th year. We’ve put GPS collars on over 900 moose in the state, which is probably 1 of the largest. Sample sizes over time in the lower 48. And we’ve done a crazy amount of research, joining people at the university of Maine, Orono folks in Vermont.

[00:20:45] And especially when this all started with our calf cow survival work, joined forces with the University of New Hampshire and my mentor and retired colleague, Pete Pekins, Dr. Pete Pekins was instrumental in all that. We share resources across the northeastern states. I was at a meeting that we put together last, just a couple weeks ago with the folks from Quebec and University of Laval and the provincial government there because our Quebec and Maine moose are the same moose.

[00:21:10] We’ve been collaborating, but we’d like to compliment each other some more. They’re doing tremendous research up in Quebec and Laval. So all this stuff rolls into management because we need to understand the problems and the issues out there in order to be the best stewards possible for the moose. The problem with winter tech is it hasn’t been good news because one of the things that has led us down this road is the fact that when you have a lot of moose on the landscape, 1999 2000 being the high point of moose populations in the state, we live in a state where commercial forest lands drives what the habitat looks like and commercial forest lands and moose are simpatico.

[00:21:48] They do well together because Forestry operations in northern Maine in the big woods, uh, creates food for moose. And we’ve had a ton of moose relative to what other populations look like. Moose live at very low densities. Moose in our woods back in the day and still in some areas are at densities that are still above can play a very significant role potentially in management actions and it’s something that’s a big part of our goals, objectives, and management piece stayed.

[00:22:17] That’s why the winter tick is ramped up to these ill effects. So I’ve gotten into a very long explanation of your question, but I mean, that’s all very, very germane and critical to how we look at moose management moving forward. And moose hunting is a critical part of that component because more moose on the landscape and winter ticks is not good because essentially these calves dying in the woods and it’s a lingering Death is not a pretty death.

[00:22:44] One of the only actions to try to figure out how we can have a healthier moose population, which is essentially how our. New goals and objectives are for moose means lowering the moose density if we can, and contrary to most people’s belief, we’re not doing that through hunting. We would, in some areas, we would like to do that through hunting, but typically, and I’m making assumptions here, but people typically associate the moose hunt or shooting some moose with, well, that’s going to take the population down.

[00:23:14] And that’s not how it is population dynamics. They’re too complex. The other ingredients to a moose population growing or declining is the productivity of the cow. I mean, you know, as far as what they give birth to in May, those calves, how they survive, and how they survive their first winter. That’s what’s driving the moose population in Maine, and that’s being driven by the winter tick.

[00:23:37] And so it gets very complex, it gets counterintuitive fast, hunting in Maine can play a very significant role potentially in management actions and it’s something that’s a big part of our goals, objectives, and management piece state.

[00:23:52] Eric Miller: Okay, we love detailed, long explanations of the intricacies and nuances of a topic on this show. And so we really appreciate you bringing that to light because, and many things I love about ecology, but there’s so many counterintuitive examples. What do you think the world and the natural world works and interacts with each other? And, the, you, you highlighted one that I had not known before. And I think the listener will find that to be quite interesting as well.

[00:24:21] Reminds me of, I was on a hike near Greenville and there’s tons of moose in Greenville, of course, but there was this one area we were in that seemed like there was quite a bit of heavy machinery that went through there. And I mean, there’s moose poop everywhere. And so it’s a fascinating field that you’re in, and we appreciate you to bringing these nuances to light. And the fact that your management plan is so adaptive with changing conditions from like the human environment as well as the natural environment. Griffin, can you tell us the role that you serve at the Tick Lab and what trends you’ve been seeing?

[00:24:57] Griffin Dill: Yeah. So, I mean, here at the, the Tick Lab, we’re kind of both an outreach branch and research branch of the University of Maine. So, you know, we offer a couple of different services to the people of Maine. They can send in any ticks that they find for feces identification and then for a nominal fee, uh, they can actually have those ticks tested to see whether they’re carrying pathogens like the bacteria that causes Lyme disease or some of the other tick-borne diseases that occur here in Maine and the client who has found that tick and wants it identified and or tested, they get a piece of information about the risk that that particular individual tick poses to them or their children or their pets, whatever the case may be. And we kind of aggregate all that information and we can really get a good look at the geography of tick exposure here in the state of Maine.

[00:25:46] So we can really identify potential hotspots for tick activity or at least hotspots for where humans are encountering ticks. We can. Kind of and be able to infer information about the pathogen prevalence within the tick population and how that may fluctuate year over year and that’s really one of the kind of interesting trends that we’ve seen having now been testing these publicly submitted ticks for about five years now, you know, there is a lot of just variation from one year to the next.

[00:26:15] As far as the number of ticks that are submitted, the percentage of those ticks that are infected with pathogens. Transcribed Really can shift dramatically from one year to the next, you know, with the bacteria that causes Lyme, it’s been relatively steady over that five-year period going from, you know, somewhere around 40 to 45 percent somewhere in that range, somewhat sometimes ranging closer to 50 percent of ticks testing positive for some of the kind of the lesser known illnesses or pathogens, things like anaplasmosis and babesiosis, those are diseases that are on the rise in Maine. So we’re seeing more reported cases of those illnesses in human populations, in our pets, things like that. And we’ve also seen this kind of corresponding increase in the pathogen prevalence in the ticks. So when we first started in 2019, now testing these ticks.

[00:27:10] Things like Anaplasma and Babesia were somewhere around 4 or 5 percent and they’ve really steadily increased over that five-year span to now we’re seeing, you know, 10 to 12 percent of the ticks testing positive for those pathogens. So even in that short amount of time we’ve seen a relatively significant increase in the pathogen prevalence.

[00:27:29] But again, it can really fluctuate year to year and some of that is driven by some of those kind of weather events that we’ve talked about. So we talk about climate change over a long period of time, but we really do see some of these kind of just inter-annual weather variations. So all of a sudden, if we have a really hot summer, it’s hot, it’s dry, there’s drought conditions.

[00:27:52] Those aren’t really conducive conditions for a lot of our ticks to be active. And so in some of those cases, we see, you know, reduced number of tick submissions to the lab, we may see fewer reported cases of Lyme disease, and then, you know, on the flip side of that, when it’s a really wet year, you know, there’s a lot of rain, it’s damp, it may be more conducive for ticks, but It’s less conducive for people being outdoors.

[00:28:18] And so you have this kind of interplay between the ecology of the ticks and the ecology of us. And the connection between the two is really kind of the interesting point that we’re trying to capture. And so, you know, we’re really expanding now, fortunately with some increased funding, both at the state and federal level, beyond the passive surveillance that we’re doing.

[00:28:38] And that’s kind of what the tick submission program is. It’s this passive surveillance where people are sending in their ticks. We’re really trying to branch out into that active surveillance where we’re really getting out boots on the ground, trying to actively monitor these different tick species and are hoping to be setting up some sentinel sites throughout the state.

[00:28:57] We’ll be collecting weather data, data on wildlife hosts, as well as ticks and the pathogens they carry to try and monitor for changes, you know, within the pathogens and ticks that we know are occurring here, as well as try to identify some of the emerging tick species that are kind of knocking on our doorstep.

[00:29:15] Things like the Lone Star Tick and the Asian Longhorn Tick are being found now in other parts of New England. We are seeing Lone Star ticks that are submitted to our lab from here in Maine, but we haven’t been able to identify any established populations as of yet. So hopefully some of these Sentinel sites will help us kind of look at some of those emerging populations while providing a lot of interesting ecological dynamics about the populations themselves.

[00:29:41] I’m also hoping to get some insight from Lee, because with some of those sentinel sites, we’d really like to focus on winter tick activity and some of those dynamics off of the moose and see what kind of ecological drivers are driving their population increases, decreases, activity levels off hosts. So.

[00:30:01] It’s going to be kind of an ambitious project over the next year or two as we try to establish these sites and then hopefully moving forward we can, we can maintain these over the long term and really get some great long term data to kind of look at some of these relationships over time.

[00:30:15] Eric Miller: Very interesting.

[00:30:16] I’m looking forward to reading some of those reports of these studies you’ll be doing and we will add. To the show notes, some links to where you can submit your tick, if you’d like Griffin to look at your tick and then also to some of the moose management information as well. Ticks make the news somewhat regularly.

[00:30:39] Should we be concerned about their expanding range and what we can do to mitigate the harm to wildlife and humans? Lee, we’ll start with you.

[00:30:48] Lee Kantar: Oh yeah. I mean, this is a challenge, right? Because you know, if somebody I would hazard a guess that most Mainers really appreciate moose, right? And unlike some problems, trying to address the impacts of winter tick on moose and what we can do about it is a global thing.

[00:31:06] You know, it’s, we’re talking about climate change. We have people who don’t believe this. We have massive challenges at obviously at the political scales and across this world. And people are seeing main change in front of their eyes. It’s not like it used to be. So what are you going to do about it?

[00:31:23] Right? Because while it’s not necessarily you and me, it is, you know, it’s, it’s the individuals because it all starts with the individuals so that we can change what people are doing, how do you combat that I’m just a moose guy. If I could wake up tomorrow morning and winter, tick was not doing, it’s what it’s doing.

[00:31:43] You know, life would be pretty easy as a moose biologist, you know, but it’s a big challenge because it’s such an impact to the sustainability or the conservation of moose, and nobody has the ability with the way that the climate. Is in the way that humans are impacting this planet to say, well, what’s it going to look like in 20 years or 50 years?

[00:32:03] Well, what’s it gonna look like in five years? And you know, everybody non believers will think you’re an alarmist or something But you know, we’re facing we’re facing reality and we’re facing it pretty hard and we’re facing it now so if moose in moose in the news with winter tech And the information we put out can help make people think a little bit more, you know, maybe that’s, that’s as much as we can do.

[00:32:25] It’s a real challenge and, you know, all the work we’ve done over the last decade, the relationships, the science, collaborations. It takes a lot and, you know, Griffin’s talking about all of us, some of the tick people and wildlife people trying to figure out some more monitoring stuff. And we’re having a meeting coming up relatively soon with all these folks.

[00:32:46] And it takes a lot. It’s not simple. People want a simple answer. Hey, what can I do? You know, and it’s not an excuse from us. It’s from a scientific community. It’s, it’s a big challenge.

[00:32:57] Eric Miller: Absolutely. It’s one of those grand and wicked problems we’re dealing with. We appreciate your perspective. Griffin, from the more human perspective, what can we do to mitigate some of the harm?

[00:33:09] Griffin Dill: Yeah, I mean, I think, obviously, beyond the tick’s ability to transmit pathogens, one of the big issues with them is that they’re hard to manage. And I think in speaking to a lot of people that become extremely frustrated in dealing with this tick related challenge, they start to turn to, all right, what is the state doing? Why isn’t the state stepping in and taking care of this tick problem? We need something done here. We need it figured out. And what I generally try to explain is that, you know, looking at the state of Maine in particular, we’re something like 95 percent of our land bases is privately owned. So, if the state came in and said, we’re going to nuke every square inch of public property, we’re going to pave it all to make it inhospitable for ticks, that would be a small drop in the bucket to the problem overall, so and unfortunately, it really comes down to when it falls upon the individual landowner to try to manage the issue on their own property. And that in and of itself becomes another challenge because you can be doing everything you could possibly do to manage ticks on on your one acre. And if everyone around you is doing nothing, you know, you’re, you’re really going to be fighting a losing battle.

[00:34:20] So, I mean, I just said it comes down to that individual property owner. But at the same time, it is almost kind of a more community level scale that we need to potentially tackle this at. And so there are a number of methods for managing ticks, everything from trying to alter the habitat around the home landscape, to using pesticides, to trying to eliminate some of those wildlife hosts in and around the yard.

[00:34:47] And unfortunately, there really is no silver bullet solution that will eradicate those ticks that will eliminate the problem. Integrating multiple management options is generally best. It will generally help with reduction of exposure, reduction of tick populations, but we really don’t have a silver bullet solution that we can point to and say, Hey, you do this one thing and you’re going to be all set.

[00:35:12] And that is frustrating to people. They want just human nature, they want that silver bullet solution and they want the state to be able to step in and say, we’ve got this taken care of. Don’t worry about it anymore. And so that’s a big part of our research and outreach moving forward is trying to help people kind of not only mitigate the risk itself, but kind of temper the expectation of what tick management looks like. I don’t think we’re going to be solving this issue in the short term. It’s something we’re going to be dealing with for a while yet. That said, there are a vast swath of researchers, everything from myself here at Extension to Lee working with wildlife at the state, of course, all the way up through the medical community that are dealing with different parts of these issues. So, you know, it’s certainly not for a lack of effort that we’re seeing this remain a challenge, but I think moving forward, as we gather more information, I’m optimistic that we can at the very least minimize the effects moving forward.

[00:36:11] Lee Kantar: Yeah, and here’s the thing, Eric, is that some of the things that Griffin’s talking about goes back to the tick species and what’s going on.

[00:36:20] So, when we talk about humans, right? And in Griffin’s one acre example, if I’m getting ticks on me at my house where I live, right? There’s things that I can do in my yard, right? This is the human side, meaning I can keep my grass mowed really tight. I can get the brush back. I can make the outside of my property inhospitable to mice and small rodents that the deer ticks feed on.

[00:36:43] Well, you can do those things and you may assert and help the situation for you where you live. Now, if you want to talk about winter ticks, Right now, we’re talking about a whole different life cycle and now we’re talking about it’s the moose and their house and them trying to get rid of text. Right?

[00:37:00] Well, the moose ranges 10 to 12 square miles. Minimally. Okay. Okay. So now, what are you going to do about that? Right? So here’s the question that everybody asked me and my good friend Griffin has helped me on this as well because people will say, well, you’re catching these moose here, but why don’t you just spray the moose?

[00:37:19] Why don’t you, you know, we do that with our dogs. Why don’t you just do that with the moose? And it’s like, well, first of all, we just got 72 moose in five days. That’s pretty good. That’s extremely dangerous work, and it’s very costly work. There’s that. Hey, well, let’s not, who cares about that? Let’s put a tick collar on him.

[00:37:36] Well, the medications, the things that we use to treat our dog are to treat our dog. And a moose and dog are not the same thing. And a moose is a wild animal. And so even if you had the ability to do something like that and treat a moose, and it worked, how many did you do, 72? And when are you going to treat him next time?

[00:37:56] Right? You’re going to make, uh, I’m joking about it, but I get pegged on this all the time. And there’s reality and there’s not reality. And then, of course, there’s the, well, why don’t you spray the woods? And as Griffin mentioned, the majority of the state of Maine is privately owned. And you can envision that if you want to try to kill a tick with pesticide, which you can do in your backyard, and then you want to apply that to our 10 to 12 square mile home range and expand that so we get, we can deal with all the moose.

[00:38:26] I think you’re pretty much going to nuke everything out there, invertebrate, water resources, whatever. I’m not a pesticide applicator, but it’s not a road nobody’s going to go down to. You know, so when you talk about what are you going to do about moose, how are you going to do this? And believe me, I’ve gotten some people who can get pretty angry about that and believe an approach like this.

[00:38:47] We also need to know about feasibility, costs. And reality, and those, those are not options for the winter tech scenario. There’s options there for you as a homeowner dealing with the deer tech. And you can see Eric, how complex this just gets. We’re trying to think this through because the different tick species.

[00:39:06] How they operate and what we got to do about it and whether it’s impacting a human versus an animal. And I’ll also add to that that, you know, all joking aside, when I get approached by people, and this has gone up to various levels, including legislative hearings, I take it very seriously and I take the ideas that people present.

[00:39:26] Even if they’re not feasible, very serious, I don’t make light of it, but I also have responsibilities and understanding based on the science and what we do, and I sleep on it. I mean, it’s not like I go to bed at night and don’t think about all these things. What are the, what are the possibilities out there?

[00:39:42] So let’s just clarify to deal with winter tech and its impacts on moves. You know, that’s something that, again, yeah. Right. If I could wake up in the morning and have a, have a silver bullet, I would apply that silver bullet. Believe me.

[00:39:56] Eric Miller: It is encouraging to have an issue that people are so energized about.

[00:40:01] It gives hope that it, the message really starts to resonate with people that can help affect decision making and other facets of their lives because they recognize the connection between moose population health, ticks. Individual and collective action for the better and the collective action that leads for the worst, too.

[00:40:22] So, really appreciate you two coming here on this episode to articulate your perspective, your expertise, and to articulate the nuance of this issue. Before we end, we’ll leave with, if you have anything additionally you’d like to say that we haven’t covered yet, or something you’d like to plug, we’d like to give you the chance to do that before we end.

[00:40:44] Lee Kantar: Well, I mean, I, I guess the tough thing about winter tick and moose is that, and over, over the last decade of doing this research is like, we’ve done a pretty good job of getting the word out about winter tick. And then impacts on moose. There’s clearly nuances that we talked about today. The message about ticks killing moose sometimes comes across as the sky is falling, right? And people have heard that, but and then people misconstrue things, right? Because. The ticks aren’t killing all the moose. They’re not doing that. They’re not killing all the moose. They particularly impact young moose, which is these calves trying to make it to that first winter, which has long term effects or relatively on population growth or decline.

[00:41:29] And then, not all years are equal. Uh, in fact, and I get the years confused because I look at a year as fall going into the next year, into spring. That’s more my year. But a few years ago, we had a tremendously bad winter tick year. We lost a very high percent of collared calves, which is somewhat representative of the larger core range of moose.

[00:41:53] And we lost a lot of young moose that year. The following year, which was essentially last year, it was the reverse. Things dramatically changed. We had very high survival of those overwintering calves. This year, based on our predictions from looking at winter tick on moose, it looks to be another mild year. Problem solved, right? No, no, no problem solved here. Wildlife and the way we have to look at things is over the long term, and things come up. That makes it a particular challenge. I try to be encouraging. I have kids. We care about Maine. We care about wildlife. We care about this earth. We have to try to figure out some optimism and some ways forward.

[00:42:33] And so, as Griffin said, is that we as people want an answer now, we want it or we want it tomorrow. Science is our most important tool and our most powerful tool and will remain that way. And science does not happen overnight. So it’s very frustrating. And people have to hold on to patience, but we need to balance all of that, right?

[00:42:54] We need to have some optimism. We need to have some trust. We need to believe in science and we need to be given the resources to do our work, which thankfully we’ve been given a lot, but I mean, check out www.maine.gov and IFNW we get some great information on our website about moose and winter ticks. And perhaps some of that can help explain a little bit more about how that all works.

[00:43:17] There’s a lot of information out there and thanks for having me here and Griffin being here too and we’ll pass it on to him I guess.

[00:43:25] Griffin Dill: Yeah, I mean, so when I am speaking to people about the tick related problems that they may be encountering, I’m, I’m always kind of trying to push the mantra of be aware, but not afraid.

[00:43:38] I’m consistently hearing from people that are saying, you know, I’m, I’m becoming scared to go out and hike and hunt and fish and even just walk my dog in the backyard because of these ticks. And I get it. I mean, it can be kind of a scary situation, particularly given the amount of media attention that some of these tick borne issues receive.

[00:44:00] But again, there are ways to minimize our risk through some of those management tools, through personal protection, you know, wearing protective clothing and gear and repellents and conducting those all important tick checks when you do return indoors. So there are ways that we can really mitigate and minimize our exposure.

[00:44:19] We don’t want anyone to be afraid to go outdoors and, you know, take part in all of the recreational activities, the occupational opportunities that Maine has to offer. So, you know, be aware of the issue, but don’t be afraid of it. You know, take some of those precautions and enjoy the Maine outdoors.

[00:44:40] Eric Miller: Excellent. Thank you both so much for being here, sharing the urgency of the issue as well as bringing some optimism as well. Really appreciate your work and we’re looking forward to keeping track of it as we go forward and we’re looking forward to potentially having you back here sometime, so thank you for taking the time to chat with us.

[00:44:58] And thank you listener for joining us today. This is Eric Miller and I’ll see you on January 30th when we interview experts on Maine’s waste management.

[00:45:15] Our team comprises Barbara Harrity and Joyce Rumery coeditors of Maine Policy Review. Jonathan Rubin directs the Policy Center. Thanks to faculty associate Kathryn Swacha professional writing consultant, Maine Policy Matters intern Nicole LeBlanc, and podcast producer, editor, and writer Jayson Heim. Thanks to Nathanael Batson for composing our podcast music.

[00:45:38] Check out mcslibrary.org to learn more about Margaret Chase Smith, the library and museum, and education and public policy. The Maine Policy Matters website can be found in the description of this episode, along with all materials referenced, a full transcript, and social media links. You can give our team your topic suggestions and recommendations by filling out the form at the bottom of our webpage. Remember to follow Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Thank you for listening.

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