A Talk with Former N.H. Fish & Game Wildlife Biologist Kristine Rines

Oct 1, 2019

We talk with wildlife biologist Kristine Rines.  For three decades, she worked with  New Hampshire Fish and Game as the moose project leader.  We discuss the changes she saw during her tenure, from the ravaging of the moose population due to winter ticks and the changes in the state's habitat and public attitudes.  As a biologist, she worked with many of NH's wild creatures known as charismatic megafauna such as bear and moose.

Air date: Wednesday, October 2, 2019

GUEST:   

  • Kristine Rines. A native of New Hampshire, she began her career at N.H. Fish and Game in 1983 as the Animal Damage Control Agent. In 1986 she became the state’s first moose biologist and began the state's first moose collaring project. In addition to her work with the state's moose population, she helped educate the public about the impacts of climate change on NH's fish and wildlife. 

NH Fish & Game and UNH Moose Study Video: Watch a video of moose being collared in New Hampshire for this study:

Transcript

This is a computer-generated transcript, and may contain errors.

I'm Laura Knoy. and this is The Exchange. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who knows New Hampshire's moose better than our guest today,  Kristine Rines. She's collared moose in the middle of the night, tramped through many miles of their territory, taking countless blood and urine samples and tirelessly educating the public about how a warming climate has meant an epic struggle for moose. Kris Rines joined New Hampshire Fish and Game more than 30 years ago. She retired recently and over three decades, it's an understatement to say she's seen a lot of change. This hour, we'll get her observations on those changes in terms of wildlife habitat and public attitudes. Welcome back. Happy retirement. Great to see you.

Kristine Rines:
It's nice to see you, too. Thanks for having me.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and before we get into the moose project, which you and I have talked about many, many times before, I'd like your broader reflections. Kris, please. Just on your long career working with animals and conservation. What's been most rewarding for you?

Kristine Rines:
Well, you know, I think when every wildlife biologist starts their career, they think, oh, I'm gonna be outside all the time. I'm going to be working with wildlife. And and that was my hope as well. But I was surprised to find that I think the most rewarding part of my work was educating the public and helping them to get a better understanding of our of our world and how our wild world really depends on us. So, yeah, I found out I love to be an educator. Well, it's funny you started out to work with animals and you end up working with people, right? Yeah, well, that is true for all of us. We would love to think we were going to work one on one with wildlife and field biologists are lucky in that they get to do some of that. But I really think our most important task is, is educating people.

Laura Knoy:
So what do people need to be educated about? Kris, we'll talk about climate, obviously, and the impact on moose. But just more broadly, what don't people understand about how New Hampshire's natural world works?

Kristine Rines:
So I think the big thing that people don't understand is are sheer numbers and how that is dramatically altering our environment. Rather, it's through climate change or a reduction in open land. There are just so many of us all across the planet, so many numbers that even the small things we do each day that we all take for granted can have a a huge impact, negative impact on on wildlife and on on our natural resources. So I think that's the biggest thing that people aren't really connecting, that there are we're really beyond our own carrying capacity at this point. And it's really starting to impact all of us, not just wildlife, but us as well.

Laura Knoy:
We'll get into the details for sure in a moment. What are the biggest changes that you've seen in terms of habitat? Kris, you're kind of going there. So go ahead. Over your 30 years tramping out in the woods, and I guess, spending a lot of time with people, too.

Kristine Rines:
Yes. So the biggest change I've seen, I live in Carroll County. And so and that it was a lot of my fieldwork took place there as a regional biologist. And the big change I saw was it is basically turning into suburbia. There are so many houses where they're used to just be open space that it's almost difficult to do a lot of the surveys that we used to do because it's just one house right after the other. Whether, it's on back roads or places that are just, you know, these terrible dirt roads. People are building one right after the other, and it's it's amazing. We're losing like 16000 acres of open space each year. And New Hampshire is becoming a place for people to go to, and it's it's really beginning to, to me, horrible changes.

Laura Knoy:
Well, it's interesting because we hear about New Hampshire's, not population decline, but definitely our population is not growing robustly. So is this more vacation homes or ?

Kristine Rines:
I believe it is a lot of secondary homes. You know, people come up here and, oh, isn't it beautiful? Let's build a house. And and that's starting to really be noticeable now on the landscape.

Laura Knoy:
What's the impact on wildlife?

Kristine Rines:
Well, they you know, there's there's only so much room for all of us. And when we put houses everywhere, it's just going to make animals much more likely to have to interact with us. They're not going to say, oh, oh, my goodness, this is someone's home. We mustn't tarry here, we must move along and go into the woods - they have to be where we are. And and people don't always take to that. Well. Even people who say, oh, I love wildlife, but they don't want it in their yard. They don't want it in their bird feeders. They don't want it in their garbage. They don't want to have to take care of things. And then they call us and say, we've got to get rid of them. And I'm sorry, they have no place else to go. Everywhere in New Hampshire is now pretty well, there's a lot of development. There are simply -they've got to be able to live cheek by jowl with us. And in order for that to happen, we have to be much more responsible. Don't let your chickens roam free. They've got to stay in a coop that is electrified. You know, take proper care of your garbage. Don't feed the birds until you have snow on the ground. All these things have got to take place. We've got to be much more aware of our own influence on wildlife.

Laura Knoy:
You sound frustrated, Kris. People moved to these beautiful places, build a nice house, come up on the weekends or maybe retire there and then say, hey,Fish and Game, you know, take this nuisance bear out of my yard, please.

Kristine Rines:
Right. Yeah. Oh, I think we're all frustrated. It's not just me. There is a lot of frustration. And you know, what's really frustrating is even people they'll say, you know, oh, well, I love the bears and I don't want you to hurt him, but please get rid of him. Take him to the woods. Well, we're in the woods. And and one of the reasons he's there is because you lured him out with your food. So, yeah, it becomes a little frustrating.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and if the bear is a she, chances are good she'll find her way back because female bears have this remarkable ability, as we've learned to go back where they came from.

Kristine Rines:
Actually so bears do learn from each other and so they follow each other to food sources. And so if you've got one bear that's coming to your garbage, which you're refusing to take proper care of, there's others that are coming as well. So if you don't responsibly take care of the problem, it's the the issue with the bears is not going to go away. And the raccoons and the rats. Yeah, it's important.

Laura Knoy:
So in terms of public attitudes and how they've changed, it seems like you're saying, Kris, that people want to live in gorgeous places, but they don't want the, the trouble from wildlife who also live there. And who were probably there first. What about changes in terms of the numbers of people in New Hampshire who hunt or fish and that sort of culture clash between people who just want to observe wildlife, leave it alone, and hunters. It seemed like many Fish and Game commissioners, for example, were taken aback by the outcry over the bobcat hunt. And there was a lot written about the sort of culture clash there, sort of old New Hampshire, new New Hampshire. I wonder what you've seen.

Kristine Rines:
So, yeah, the the department was very much in opposition to the bobcat hunt and recommended that we wait and make sure the public was well educated and we had more information. So the commission differed with us on that and decided to move forward. And, you know, the public was very much, they were correct, in saying: this is wrong, you can't move forward. And so that was a good thing. But hunting in general is a somewhat on the decline all across the country. And that is kind of a bad thing, because what I see is it's not just hunting that's in decline. It's people's ability to relate to our natural world. And while we have all these marvelous ways to communicate, they seem to be very good at separating us from being outside. And that is to our detriment, because if you can't relate to the natural world in a very real way, such as the hunting public does, it's very difficult to get you to care about it.

Laura Knoy:
You developed and implemented the state's first moose hunting season in 1988. Kris, what was happening at that point where Fish and Game thought, OK, we can do this?

Kristine Rines:
So I started in with the department in 1983 and we started gathering, and I became the moose biologist in 85. And we started gathering data right away to try and determine, you know, should we have a hunt.

Laura Knoy:
And so there was not a hunt before that there.

Kristine Rines:
It had been stopped in 1901.

Laura Knoy:
So while 1901. Hang on. That's interesting. How come?

Kristine Rines:
So you know prior to that it wasn't until like the late 1800s that a Fish and Game department was formed and then it was primarily for fish. And gradually sport hunting became popular and it was sport hunters who said hello, you know, there's a lot of wildlife that's disappearing here. Because there was subsistence hunting, people could take whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. There were market hunters who provided a lot of meat for the restaurant industry and they were decimating wildlife populations. And there were no regulations because there was no Fish and Game Department. So when the department was formed, that was, you know, one of the first things they did was regulate the fisheries first. And then with the advent of sport hunting, they were, you know, petitioned, the legislature was petitioned, please stop moose hunting and various other forms of hunting. And so it took a while for the legislature to get on board with that, because they wanted people to come to New Hampshire and hunt for the money. But they, the sport hunters persevered and were successful. And in 1901 moose hunting was stopped.

Laura Knoy:
Wow, that's amazing. So 80 years later.

Kristine Rines:
80 years later. Quite a long time later. So we decided, it was interesting, because in 1985 actually and I believe in 83, there were legislative initiatives to start moose hunting without any data, just start. And so the department successfully said, no, let's wait. Let's gather some information, which we did in 1988. We had the first hunts since 1901. It was very small. Only about 75 animals. It was in the north country, or 75 permits, I should say, was primarily in the north country. And we had about 1600 animals at the time. So it was successful. As the moose herd continued to increase, numbers increased, the amount of the state that was open also increased. And then as the herd started to diminish, again, we reverse the whole process.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and I have read that the 1980s were a great decade for moose. Is that about the time too Kris, when you started the Brake for Moose campaign? Those fabulous signs and T-shirts and bumper stickers that we see everywhere.

Kristine Rines:
Yes. So I came back from a conference in Alaska - I cannot take full credit for this. So they had a similar campaign. And when we got back from the conference, very sad situation. Two people had been killed in moose vehicle accidents. And the governor said, you know, we've got to do something. And I was like, I have this great information from Alaska. This is what they did. And it helped. And so we we developed with the DOT the whole Brake for Moose campaign. And the Department of Safety.

Laura Knoy:
Was the problem, Kris, that there were so many moose wandering around? Or was the problem that drivers just didn't understand how to interact with them?

Kristine Rines:
Well, it was both. Of course, we hadn't seen moose on our roadways and people were used to, you know, if you hit something, generally it dies and you're OK - unless it's a deer. And this was very different. If you hit a moose, chances are if you hit it the right way, you're going to knock its legs out from under it, and the whole body, that animal is going to come down right on the roof of your car or come through the windshield.

Laura Knoy:
And how much do moose weigh, at least in good times? How much do they weigh?

Kristine Rines:
Yeah, on average, an adult is generally about a thousand pounds. Yeah. So not something you want coming through your windshield. So yeah, it was a successful campaign. We found over time that the thing that really works to slow people down, though, are those scrolling signs, you know, that have the messaging. And we were working with the Department of Safety and DOT and a member of the governor's council. We were able to get one of those right at the top of Franconia Notch and actually stop severe moose vehicle collisions that caused human injuries. So that was great.

Laura Knoy:
Well, of course, now when I see those signs, I feel a little bit sad because I have not seen a moose in a long, long time and I am in the north country a fair bit. So we'll talk about that in just a moment. I want to remind our listeners that you can join us. Our guest is Kristine Rines, longtime moose biologist with New Hampshire Fish and Game and the state's Moose Project leader. As we've been hearing, she developed and implemented the state's first moose hunting season way back in the 80s. She also started the Brake for Moose campaign and then she started the Moose Project, tracking the health of the moose population and some of the declines that we've heard about in more recent years.

Laura Knoy:
So the hunt begins in the 80s. The Brake for Moose campaign begins. When did the Moose Project begin - your collaboration with you U.N.H scientists?

Kristine Rines:
So the first the first time we did collaring was very early on, like in 1986. And we did it pretty much on our own. And we worked with UNH to get a grad student onboard to then monitor those animals. So that particular project was primarily put on board to answer questions the public had about the impacts of a possible hunt and where moose were spending their time. So it wasn't until we started seeing the population of moose not really grow, even though there was plenty of food and their productivity seemed very high, the population had stalled out. And this was in the late 90s, early 90s, actually. And so we we started to try and and gain support to do collaring, which took a while. And we were very, very lucky to get Pete Pekins to help us. And he has been phenomenal. He is like a moose manager's dream come true to work with on research, because Pete's whole focus is to help you answer questions. So we worked with him. We did our first collaring with Pete in the early 2000s, 2000 through 2005, and learned that winter tick was the primary cause of our declines. And we thought, well, okay, now we know about how bad the situation is. This is great. Now we can account for that. And 10 years later, things were worse. And so we needed to go back and see is something different? Is it actually more than winter tick? And Pete once again was right there to help us. And we continued collaring and found out things are, climate change is really the culprit.

Laura Knoy:
You're listening to The Exchange on NHPR. So, Kris, you also mentioned, that you mentioned that ticks and how that's a problem, I definitely want to talk a lot about that. But there's another element that I've heard about more recently that moose are getting sick from brain worm from deer. Help me make the connection there. Right.

Kristine Rines:
So actually, deer are the primary host for ticks and the primary host for brain worm. The difference between these two species, moose and deer, is that deer evolved in warmer, temperate latitudes and they evolved with all of these parasites.

Laura Knoy:
So they're fine with them?

Kristine Rines:
Well, they're not fine, but they certainly can handle them much better. Moose evolved in a very cold environment. They really didn't have ectoparasites where they evolved. So they don't handle them well. So the brain worm, the deer, Kerry's brain worm, they, they release the brain worm in their feces. You need a secondary host - little land snail. And I mean, these guys are little, like wee tiny things and they they crawl across the feces, pick the brain worm up as they do so, and then they crawl off on doing their own little thing. And the moose ingests the snails and once they ingest them, the brain worm is released into their bloodstream. It then migrates into their nervous system and the animal's nervous system. They immediately set up this immune response to that, which causes a lot of inflammatory issues and causes swelling on the brain, swelling in the spinal cord. And they they become paralyzed, blind and or deaf. They will circle. They will lose their fear. And they typically eventually die.

Kristine Rines:
Yeah. It's not an easy way to go. And so as our climate continues to warm, moose - it's not just about ticks. Moose are going to be subject to all these different parasites and diseases which they are naive to. And as well as just heat in general, which they don't don't deal with well.

Laura Knoy:
It's interesting to me too, because moose and deer seem like cousins. And yet deer seem to be able to manage these problems. There's plenty of deer on our landscape, but the moose just don't seem to evolve.

Kristine Rines:
Well, yeah, so they evolve very nicely, but they evolve at the normal pace of evolution, which is very slow, a very slow process. And we are changing the climate very dramatically and very rapidly. And they can't hope to change in the amount of time that we're changing things.

Laura Knoy:
How hard is it to collar a moose?

Kristine Rines:
Well, so we've done it two different ways. So when we called them ourselves, we called them on foot and in salt licks at night. And it took an enormous amount of time. It was very difficult. We were successful in getting about 36 moose collared. But it took so much time that we decided we just can't do it this way. We've got to have a much quicker way to get this done so that we get high numbers of animals and can have good data sets. So, most jurisdictions now hire a capture company, that this is what they do, they're professionals and they come and do it for you, and that's what we did.

Laura Knoy:
So a helicopter, you fly over moose territory, you drop the net, you net them quickly collar them and then let them go. We're not using tranquilizer darts like on some of those TV shows.

Kristine Rines:
Not anymore.

Laura Knoy:
We'll talk a lot more after a short break with Moose biologist Christine Ryan. She just retired after 30 years. We're getting her observations about all the changes she's seen. Stay with us. This is The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange. I'm Laura Knoy. Today, moose biologist Kristine Rines, after three decades out in the field with New Hampshire Fish and Game. She recently retired. We're talking with her about all the changes she's seen in the state's moose population, the landscape and public attitudes about wildlife. Lorna is calling from Salisbury. Hi, Lorna. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
I just want to say that it's possible to build and have a positive impact. When we built our house probably 15 years ago. We used to walk on the property and there was there was. It was like dead. There was nothing. And since we built over the years, now we're seeing the frogs, the toads, the snakes, the birds. It's just been to me a transformation. And we're also careful. Like we get annoyed with people like, well, we shot the fisher cat. I'm like, well, I know it could be problems for some things, but they do benefit. So we also try to help educate people. Don't just shoot things or get rid of things because they're all part of this circle that's all working together.

Laura Knoy:
So you live, as Kris put it, cheek by jowl with the natural world, but trying to live together, Lorna, instead of having conflict and calling Fish and Game and saying get rid of this creature.

Caller:
Right. Right now we have we have quite a range. I mean, we have coyotes come in and we have chickens and of course, with chickens you get pests, you know, like rats. Then, you know, we also have a farm stand. But, you know, also there's things that come in the gardens. We've had some issues with deer. But, you know, I try to just discourage them from one area, let them browse somewhere else.

Laura Knoy:
Well. It's good to hear. And that relates to your earlier comment, Kris, about some people moving to these beautiful places and then saying, hey, get this wildlife, you know, out of my flower garden. Another attitudinal shift I'd like to ask you a little bit more about is the advent of social media sharing experiences, sharing pictures. How do you think that has helped or hurt the cause of wildlife habitat conservation?

Kristine Rines:
So I think it's marvelous when people want to see wildlife and share photos. But what I see happening or what I'm no socialist, social person, but what I see happening is it's like it's all through the eye of the lens. So let's take a picture and then share it with everybody. But that is wonderful. But you also need to understand it and you need to be on the landscape and outside more in order to really understand the natural world. And I'm deeply concerned, especially with young people. You know, when we grew up, we were outside every day. That's what your mother told you to do, go outside and play. And so we we grew up outside. And I don't see that with children now. And when they are out there, they're frequently on their phone and texting and whatever they do with those phones. So I really think there's both this desire to take a picture of something pretty. But somehow this the separation from what it actually is, I don't know how to explain that. But that seems to be what's happening from my viewpoint.

Laura Knoy:
So it's an appreciation, but not an understanding.

Kristine Rines:
Yeah. That's perfect. Excellent.

Laura Knoy:
Because we have the head of state parks on a couple months ago and he talked about how, you know, social media has helped people want to visit New Hampshire. They see other people's gorgeous pictures of Sculptured Rocks or Lincoln/Lafayette. And so there's a school of thought that this has encouraged people to get outside and experience New Hampshire's beauty.

Kristine Rines:
Mm hmm. So and that's great. But so to give you an idea of what I see. So we have rock climbers on Cathedral Ledge, say, and Whitehorse Ledge and Conway. And that's wonderful. They want to come and experience the outdoors throughout rock climbing. But they actually petitioned us at one time to get rid of peregrine falcons that were on the rocks nesting, so that they could continue to do their own thing that they wanted to do. So we see that at Fish and Game quite often. And that is very frustrating for us.

Laura Knoy:
That's really interesting. Thank you for the call. And here's an email from Dave in Meredith. I grew up in New Hampshire and lived in Montana as well. I was taught to be respectful of moose, but not fearful. Yet in Montana, many, many people thought moose extremely dangerous and avoided any contact with them. Why the regional difference? Dave, very interesting. What do you think, Kris?

Kristine Rines:
Oh, I would hate to say. He is correct. Moose, moose can be very dangerous. And once again, it's people see them standing on the side of the road at a salt lick and they look pretty mellow. They are pretty mellow. They stand there. They you know, eat the salt and they're watching these people. Moose don't have to run away because they have very few natural predators. And so their first line of defense is to watch. And pretty soon they realize it. So these people aren't gonna really bother us. But if you get too close, if you're one of those people who says, oh, let's get a little closer, they can immediately decide you are too close and I'm going to eliminate you from my sphere of influence and they will chase you down and stomp on you. And they're very fast. You're not going to outrun them. So please give them a good safe distance. Stay near your car. Use that fascinating new technology called the telephoto lens when you want to see something up close and get a close picture. Don't get closer to the animal.

Laura Knoy:
Is that true for just a mother moose with calves or is that also true for male moose that if you get too close, they'll get upset and come after you?

Kristine Rines:
Yeah, that's true for all moose. Cows are certainly much more quick on their desire to protect, but all moose don't really appreciate close, close encounters.

Laura Knoy:
You were quoted in a Sierra Club article as saying "A cow moose with calves is one of the most dangerous animals in North America. Moose may appear laid back, but if they consider you a threat, they will chase you down, knock you down and kick and stomp on you until you stop moving. You said just as you said, now cameras have zoom lenses. Use them." I have to say, I was surprised by that quote, because the few moose that I've seen and sadly haven't seen that many, did seem pretty mellow, but maybe I did the right thing and left them alone. Yeah. Thank you for that email again. As we talked about the winter ticks, just getting on the moose and really hurting their health. What is the difference, Kris, between a winter tick and just a regular old tick that your dog might pick up?

Kristine Rines:
So most ticks quest or, you know, try and get on a host singly. And so, you know, you might have a lot of ticks on your dog, but they got on one by one. Winter ticks quest at the very end of the fall. And they quest right at the time when deer are in the rut and and moose are in the rut. Their breeding season. So they're moving around a lot and it makes it easier for the ticks to get on them. So when the egg mass, which can have hundreds of ticks, when that hatches out, all of those nymphs basically stay together and they climb vegetation as one mass and they link their little legs together. And they quest as a unit. And it just takes one of them to grab on. And then they they come on to the animal in streams because they're linked together.

Laura Knoy:
I see. So it isn't just one tick hopping on for a ride.

Kristine Rines:
Right, it's not just one tick hopping on for a ride. And once they get on that moose, because moose do not groom, they don't have that grooming reflex that virtually all other wildlife does here, they will have hundreds of ticks on them, thousands of ticks on them, by the by the time the questing period for ticks is over. And for that to be over, you've got to have freezing conditions, very windy conditions and lots of snow. So, as our climate changes, that period of opportunity for ticks to get on their host is lengthening by three weeks.

Laura Knoy:
So it's a long time for a moose to be struggling.

Kristine Rines:
Right. And so instead of getting, say, 30000 ticks on them, they're getting 60000, 90000 ticks on an individual animal and they stay on that animal through the winter and take, go through, their life cycles and take a blood meal with every life cycle. And it's not just a nice little discrete, delicious little drop of blood. They will just continuously feed and the blood will be excreted out through their mouth parts until they start to go through their next life cycle. So they can literally take the entire blood volume from a calf during a time when they have a very hard time replacing that blood volume because they don't have a great deal to eat.

Laura Knoy:
So from what I understand from your research and Pete Pekins and everyone else, the biggest problem is the calves, that they're just not making it to adulthood.

Kristine Rines:
Well, it it's not necessarily the biggest problem. The biggest problem really is the sheer numbers of ticks on the animals, because it's not just calves are dying. Cows are so depleted by this that they are not being, they're not in a high enough weight that they can have calves the following spring. So and then sometimes they can't even become pregnant the following fall because they haven't gained sufficient weight, so they're missing out on a year from having calves. And when they do have calves, they no longer have twins, it'ss usually just a singleton. And of course, then those animals frequently die. So it's, it is a dual whammy.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and given all these problems, many in the general public have asked Fish and Game: why do you guys still give out hunting permits for moose? I think there's just 49 this year. I know you've addressed this many times. Kris, how do you answer that question from concerned members of the public?

Kristine Rines:
Yeah. So it is a good, it is an excellent question and it's a good concern. So when we looked at this problem. Hunting, we take about 1 percent of the moose population. Vehicle collisions take about 3 percent. A winter tick outbreak kills outright about 27 percent. So hunting is not the driver here. So what do you do when hunting is not really the influence? And this this is a species that as climate change continues, is probably not going to be able to be sustained here. Our environment is simply going to change too much for them.

Laura Knoy:
They'll have to all move to Canada.

Kristine Rines:
They'll have to all move to Canada and possibly northern Canada. So that is almost more of a social issue. We have huntable populations still, we still have pretty good densities of moose.

Laura Knoy:
What are the numbers, by the way?

Kristine Rines:
So depending on where you are in the state, it's around 3400 animals. But our densities are anywhere from two moose per square mile, which is quite high, down to a tenth of a moose per square mile, pretty low, down in the southeast. But keep in mind that Canada frequently has hunting at a tenth of a moose per square mile. A lot of jurisdictions do. But the point is, when hunting is not making an appreciable difference to the population, but the population is probably going to disappear anyway, at what point do you stop hunting? And that really is a social issue. So during our last 10 year planning process, we asked the general public in each of our six management units, where do you want us to stop the hunt?

Laura Knoy:
Because it's been getting lower and lower and lower every year.

Kristine Rines:
Right. And so we have that cutoff point in each of the six management regions. We actually reached that cutoff point in the southwest a few years ago, stopped the hunt. But then because climate change isn't just going be this precipitous drop and moose aren't going to precipitously drop, there'll be years when they still climb. And so the population was rebounding,as things got a little better and we were able to reopen the hunt there with a few permits. But yeah, it's really, as we reach those cut off limits. We will, I don't know, I'm no longer the Moose Project leader, but if we maintain this, when we reach those cut off limits, we will stop.

Laura Knoy:
You're listening to The Exchange on NHPR. Let's take another e-mail, Kris. This is from Bonnie, who says, The last four years we've experienced a slight cooling, according to our local meteorologists. Please explain more specifically how global warming rather than ticks has impacted moose populations. Bonnie says, I live in Sandwich, New Hampshire and have for a decade and I've seen moose on more than one occasion this year, as I have in previous years. They are magnificent animals. Bonnie asks, Is it possible that our contemporary and indoor lifestyles prevent us from seeing the wildlife that is there? Bonnie, thank you for the e-mail. I don't have meteorological data in front of me, but I don't think New Hampshire is experiencing a cooling.

Kristine Rines:
No. And so to answer her most specific question. Climate change is influencing moose through the ticks. In the absence of a warmer environment, winters were longer by three weeks. And now they're shorter by three weeks. And so ticks have a longer time to get on these animals and stay on. Yes. And as far as brain worm goes. Because our winters are shorter. Our deer population is climbing. And with them, more brain worm is coming. And and so that is an added problem. And that is that is due to climate change directly.

Laura Knoy:
So it's through the deer. They're rebounding populations because deer don't like winter. I guess if I could put it that simply, they die off during winter. So shorter winters are great for deer. But that is harming the moose along with shorter winters are great for those ticks and that is harming the moose. So that's a direct impact there. OK, Bonnie, thank you for the e-mail. Jessie sent us an e-mail. What should you do if you accidentally come across a moose or bear in the woods? Jessie? Great question. Thank you.

Kristine Rines:
So typically, if you're going to encounter a moose in the woods, you're on a trail and moose love trails. They are trail advocates. They'd be out there, you know, they'd be brush cutters if they could. So definitely get off the trail. Let the animal know you're there and then walk perpendicularly away from the trail and get a big tree between you and the moose until they pass by. With a bear, let the bear know you are there and then usually they will blow and slap the ground and disappear and just stay calm. But definitely talk to them, let them know you're there and they will usually take off.

Laura Knoy:
So it sounds like different reactions. Well, a moose steer clear. Of the bear, be a little bit obnoxious?

Kristine Rines:
Well, not obnoxious. No one likes an obnoxious person! Let them know: Hey, hey, I'm right here. They might, if they can't smell you, bear have notoriously poor vision, so they might stand up and sniff trying to get your odor. So keep talking. Back away if you need to, move sideways away from them if you are really close and you'll be fine.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Jesse, I'm glad you emailed because after a short break, Kris, I want to ask you a little bit about bear, a population that seems to be rebounding. So we'll talk about that after a short break. Stay with us. This is The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange. I'm Laura Knoy. Today, we're talking with Kristine Rines, longtime moose biologist with New Hampshire Fish and Game and the state's Moose Project leader. She recently retired after 30 years. And we've been hearing about all the changes she's seen over that time, both in terms of habitat, also wildlife. Also public attitudes about wildlife.

Laura Knoy:
So, Kris, in a few minutes, I do want to ask you about another animal you know. well, bears, in contrast to moose the bear seemed doing pretty well. People are always sending out pictures of the bear on their back porch and so forth. But a couple more questions about moose. When we've talked over the years about this, people often call and say, can't we give moose some kind of anti-tick medicine like we give our dogs and cats? What can you tell us about that, Kris, if you're collaring these animals anyway to study them? Why not give them a dose of tick protection at the same time?

Kristine Rines:
Right. So the whole purpose of studying them is to understand why they're declining. So we don't want to interrupt that knowledge base by taking care of them. That's not the purpose of the study. But knowing that ticks are a problem. Could we put a tickicide on them and take care of the ticks? And in fact, that if you had an individual animal and put, you know, the stuff that you put on your dogs or your cattle or your horses, that would work. But that is a a medication that is dosage dependent. So you have to know the animal's weight. It only lasts for three to four weeks. So we actually sat down and ran the numbers. So if we were able to get this on the animals every three to four weeks, you're going to have to capture them, weigh them, put the stuff on them. You can't just throw it on the ground because it's dosage dependent, so you're going to overdose some animals under dose others. So you've got to do individual dosaging for each animal. And it would cost like a million dollars to do just the north country - and who's going to pay for that? And why would you do that when it is not the ultimate cause of the animal's final demise? It is climate change. That is where we should be spending our money and learning how to combat that. And in doing things that we need to do to reduce our impact on the world.

Laura Knoy:
So if winter ticks are a parasite thriving right now on this host population of moose and then that host population crashes, Kris, at what point does the tick population start to crash as well, because the host is just not abundant?

Kristine Rines:
Right it's almost immediate. So we've had a couple of pretty severe crashes. It does take the tick population a while to come back. But based on all the information that Pete and the graduate students have compiled and analyzed for us, it is probably actually in the moose's best interests, while they still can survive here to keep the population lower, because at higher moose densities, there are simply more ticks. So luckily, that's not something I have to convince anyone to do. But that may be something that they will want to talk about in the future.

Laura Knoy:
I'd like to spend a little time asking about bears another creature, you know. Well, and in fact, there's a picture on our website of you with a cub that you had to... I don't want to say put to sleep, because that sounds like the animal died, you tranquilized the cub because I think it was running around with a couple other cubs on the roof of a country club or something. I mean, people just have stories about bears and cubs everywhere in New Hampshire these days. So while the moose is struggling, the bears seem to be doing fine. Why is that?

Kristine Rines:
They're perfectly adapted to a wide range of of climates. Bears are generalists, really, and they can survive. Whereas Moose are not. They're definitely a northern species. We exist at the southern edge of moose range. That's why moose really don't occur much further south than us. But bears occur over a wide array of habitat types and environmental conditions. So they're just doing better.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and they seem highly adaptive. They can figure things out.

Kristine Rines:
Yeah, they are smarter than the average bear.

Laura Knoy:
That's where that phrase comes from. Yeah.

Laura Knoy:
How do they figure things out so well? Give us an example.

Kristine Rines:
Well, you know, I had I had I when I first started, I was the animal damage control agent and I went to this gentlemen's farm. And he had lambs, four lambs, that he was raising to slaughter. And he was a country, gentleman farmer, just had this little thing that he was doing and he had done a marvelous job. He understood he had to protect them from bears and coyotes. And he had this magnificent fence set up with outriggers, with electric wiring on it and these big cedar posts. And he called me up and said, you know, I've got a bear checking these guys out every single night. Could you come and make sure things are safe? And so I went and I was like, yeah. You've done a magnificent job. I can't imagine that he's gonna get in. So the bear obviously came every night and walked the perimeter and gradually he figured things out. And because the posts were cedar and he could get a grip on them, he reached between these outriggers and climbed the post, carefully moving his feet over the outrigger so he didn't get shocked and then jumped in with the lambs.

Laura Knoy:
He was casing the joint.

Kristine Rines:
Yeah, they are so smart. So if you have livestock, please go on our website. Talk to our animal damage control person who works for wildlife services with APHIS and learn how to adequately protect your livestock, your bees, your, you know, your gardens.

Laura Knoy:
Well, we did a whole program on this, Not that long ago. So folks can tap into that. But I did want to ask you, Kris, one of the reasons that we have heard that there are so many bears is, one, they're highly adaptive and smart. But two, there was that big acorn year last year or the year before so the female bears had more cubs maybe than normal. I noticed a lot of acorns underfoot when I was out in the woods this weekend. I almost slipped a couple times. Is this year usual or unusual in terms of acorns? I'm just wondering what we're going to see next year as a result of this year's acorn crop.

Kristine Rines:
Yeah. So we used to see good, good mast years with a with good acorns and beeches used to be not as frequent as they seem to be becoming. And I'm not a forester, so I can't tell you why that's changing. if it is because our winters aren't as severe. But we do seem to be having better mast years and this is a great mast year as far as I can tell, but I'm not the bear biologist. Andy Timmins does keep track of those things. And when we all worked Fish and Game, we all had to do mast surveys every year. But this does seem to be a particularly good one. So sows will probably go into the den and good weight and be successful and have good success with their with their cubs.

Laura Knoy:
Too bad moose can't eat acorns and get nice and fat.

Kristine Rines:
Yeah, you know. Well, when your neck is only two feet long and your legs are four feet long, it's quite hard to get down.

Laura Knoy:
I want to just close out, Kris, with a couple questions about your career. As I've been saying, you retired after more than 30 years as a biologist. When you first started your career as a biologist working in the field, how many other women were doing the work that you were doing?

Kristine Rines:
So at the department, there was one other biologist. She was a fisheries biologist, Sandy Falcon. She was like my heroine. I was like, oh,thank God, I'm not the only person. And when I would go to the moose conferences, around the country, there were two other women that were moose biologists. And one was Kim Morris, the moose biologist in Maine. And she really mentored me and was wonderful. Really helped me a great deal. So to give you a good idea. Things have changed pretty dramatically. So I was the only woman in the game division when I started. Now it's about half and half. That's a big change. And it's also true when you go to the conferences, there's a lot more women and wildlife now.

Laura Knoy:
You're listening to The Exchange on NHPR. So what's your message, Kris, for younger women who might want to consider tramping around and collaring moose and doing the work that you did.

Kristine Rines:
So my message is the same for all young people. If you're gonna go into any science -based field, it's really important that you do good science, that you reach out and make sure you have good support and good help. You've got good statisticians. We were very lucky at Fish and Game to have Kent Gustafson, who is like fantastic in helping all of us do better, and be prepared to stand up for what you learn. To stand up and politely say this is what we know to be a fact. This is the amount of confidence we have in this data and this is what is actually happening. And and be a good educator. You've you've got to be able to both hear peoples different opinions with respect, but without apologizing, stand up for what you know to be true.

Laura Knoy:
Sounds like you've had some experience with that, with people saying this is happening and you've had to say, no, I'm sorry, my science, my research and my data proves otherwise.

Kristine Rines:
Right. Quite a bit.

Laura Knoy:
More so recently?

Kristine Rines:
No, it's I mean, it's always.

Laura Knoy:
Because sometimes the reality is inconvenient.

Kristine Rines:
You know, Right. A lot of people are very sincere in wrongly held beliefs. And your job is to help them understand what is reality.

Laura Knoy:
There's a lot of retirements at Fish and Game. Director Normandeau is retiring, I believe, next year. Another person, John Kanter, I believe, has moved on, not retired, but moved on. You've retired. Some concerns that there won't be enough Fish and Game officers out there to not only track wildlife and report back, as you said, but also do the rescues that are so important in the White Mountains.

Kristine Rines:
Yeah. So the conservation officers are a totally different deal from wildlife biologists. And so we study the wildlife. We do the education. We set the seasons. And we wouldn't save anybody, that's not our job. I mean, if we were right there. Yes, we'd try and lend a helping hand.

Laura Knoy:
But they're not calling you at 2 o'clock in the morning to rescue somebody.

Kristine Rines:
Thank the Lord. No, they're not. So our jobs are very separate. But yes, there is a lot of people leaving and not, at least I understand for the officers, not many people coming on board. So that is a big concern.

Laura Knoy:
On the biology side, are you seeing a new generation coming in?

Kristine Rines:
Yes, we have a new generation coming in. And that's actually quite exciting. They'll have new ideas and new enthusiasm and they'll be great.

Laura Knoy:
Kris, thank you so much for being with me this hour. Really appreciate it. Thank you. Good to see you. Good to see you. That's Kristine Rines again, longtime moose biologist with New Hampshire Fish and Game and the state's Moose Project leader. She recently retired after 30 years. The Exchange is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.