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New Hampshire officials open annual moose permit lottery

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire Fish and Game officials will issue fewer than half the moose hunting permits than in recent years, due to the dwindling moose population.

Wildlife officials expect the number of permits being raffled off in June will be about 124, down significantly from the 275 permits awarded in recent years.

New Hampshire's moose population had dropped from a peak of about 7,600 in 1996 to about 4,400 today.

Fish and Game officials, in partnership with the University of New Hampshire, are in the first year of a three-year study into the causes of moose mortality and how changing weather patterns may be affecting the animals. Researchers have placed tracking collars on more than 40 moose so far this year and are investigating whether winter ticks are the main factor in the declining population or whether there are other causes.

Wildlife biologist Kristine Rines said that about 20 percent of the moose they collared were thinner than they should be and were carrying heavy tick loads.

Registration for the popular moose permit lottery just opened and will close May 30. The computerized drawing will be held at Fish and Game headquarters in Concord on June 20, an event that packs the department's large function room.

Last year, more than 13,000 people entered to win one of 275 permits. Winners included hunters from 18 states.

Fish and Game officials say they will set the final moose permit count after public hearings in late March and early April, but proposals on the table call from 124 permits.

The lottery application fee is $15 for New Hampshire residents and $25 for non-residents. Winning applicants then have to pay for the permits.

Moose hunting season is Oct. 18-26.