Moose Population Growing in the Adirondacks

Gary N. Lee

Moose Population Growing in the Adirondacks

The last moose legally shot in the Adirondacks was in 1861 when three moose were shot near Raquette Lake by two sports and their guide. This was believed to be the last moose in the Adirondacks for several years to come.

Some attempts were made to reintroduce moose on several private land holdings during the late 1800s and early 1900s, but none were successful. The biggest problem was that about 50 percent of all moose that were bought and transported here died due to stress and body temperature change. If their body temperature changes more than five degrees, it is almost always fatal.

In the early 1900s the Browns Tract Guides Association brought in several bull and cow moose. These were kept in pens during the winter before they were released the following spring. These moose became so tame that after their release they had no fear of man and wandered in back yards looking for handouts. Local residents killed most of these moose within a few miles of the release site.
Moose populations grew in the neighboring states of Vermont and New Hampshire as they moved in from Canada and Maine. As these populations grew, they started to expand their range and moved westerly into New York during the late 1970s and early ‘80s. Some of these animals on the move ran into populated areas causing people problems. They were tranquilized and moved to more suitable habitat in the Adirondacks. The first few were collared with transmitters and released in the Perkins Clearing, Moose River Plains, and Stillwater areas. Some of these died within a few days but many survived the relocation. Most of these were bulls, and without any cows in the area these bulls traveled many miles during the rut looking for a cow. Some took interest in domestic cows and caused problems like traffic jams when the word got out that there was a bull moose in the local cow pasture.
In the mid ‘80s another call for possible stocking of moose came forward. Deer scat taken from the areas to be stocked was checked for brain worm eggs since this parasite lives in deer without causing a problem but when picked up by moose it’s fatal. It was found to be no more of a problem than where moose were living with deer in Maine and Michigan.

Things were moving forward until insurance companies got into the picture, and they pretty much put a stop to this stocking plan. Their concern was the moose-car collisions that were happening in states with bigger moose populations. But the need to stock declined as moose were migrating in naturally and there were moose cows which would keep the bulls on home range.

As the Forest Ranger in the Moose River Plains area, I got my first report of a moose on the outlet of White’s Pond in back of Limekiln Lake. The fellow who saw it was so excited that he left his binoculars hanging in a tree right where he was on his deer watch.

Wildlife Biologist Al Hicks who worked on the Moose Program for DEC called me a few times as he had moose in transport from a populated area to be released in the Moose River Plains. One big bull taken in the Syracuse area had its antlers cut off to get it in the horse trailer and it was fitted with a tracking collar. We released it on the Rockdam Road, and it stayed in that area most of the winter. It lost the collar when the moose’s swollen neck shrunk down after the rut.

Where this animal wintered it had bitten into the bark of red maples and pealed it up the tree for something to eat. Many think when they see this that it was where they rubbed their rack during the rut but almost every red maple had the bark partially ripped off and eaten in about a four acre area. This was their winter food.

During the summer they find a pond with plenty of lily pads and feed there daily. One pond that has been used by moose for the past four years is Helldiver Pond in the Moose River Plains area. There are many other ponds like this in the Adirondacks to see a moose if you are there at the right time. A Moose weighs 800 – 1200 pounds, so they need lots of salad.

I kept getting reports of moose in the Plains area but just could never see one. My wife was coming home from Old Forge in late September 1982 and had a cow run right down the highway beside her just outside Inlet. About a month later I got to see and photograph my first Adirondack bull moose near the Sly Pond Trail in the Plains. After that I saw several moose in many areas of the Adirondack Park each year.. In 1998 I saw seven different moose and my first cow and calf near Icehouse Pond in the Plains. 
In the next 15 years the population continued to increase as more cows moved westerly from Vermont and New Hampshire and began having calves. The estimate of moose population in New York State now is between 500 and 700 animals. The only population of moose outside the Adirondack Park is near Lake Desolation, south of Great Sacandaga Lake.

The biggest deterrent to population growth is collisions with vehicles. One year five were killed during the fall rut and three more in the spring. Another factor is the brain worm which has killed a few moose. These are two factors that we can’t control but one that can be controlled is the illegal shooting of moose that has been going on since they moved into the state.

Most of these moose have been shot by some someone just to say “I shot a moose” and then the animals have been left to rot in the woods. Examples that have been found include a  yearling bull shot near North River Hill, a large bull with over 50 inch inside spread shot by Otter Brook in the Moose River Plains, a large bull with a 52 inch inside spread shot near Rockdam in the Moose River Plains, and a cow shot in Keene Valley. The only persons who were ever caught were the two who shot the cow in Keene Valley.

I’m sure in a few years there could be a population large enough to sustain a legal hunting season as in Vermont and New Hampshire.  But for now let’s just take their picture, enjoy them, and let them multiply.

Gary Lee is a retired NYS Forest Ranger and licensed guide. He writes a column in the Weekly Adirondack and is co-author of Adirondack Birding.  He is an active volunteer with the Adirondack Cooperative Loon Program.

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