WILSON RING, Associated Press

MONTPELIER -- Vermont regulators want to cut the number of moose hunting permits by 20 percent because the herd is below its target population.

The state is planning to issue 285 firearm licenses for the fall moose hunt, 70 fewer than last year and more than 70 percent below the peak number issued in 2008.

The Vermont moose population is currently estimated at about 2,500, below the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s ideal size of 3,000 to 5,000, said state moose biologist Cedric Alexander.

"We recommended a reduction in permits this year based on the biological data we have collected on Vermont’s moose and our calculated population estimates indicating moose densities are below management goals in some areas," Alexander said.

The size of the Vermont moose herd peaked in 2008, when the animals were damaging forests. That year the state issued 1,255 moose hunting permits.

The 2014 moose hunting permits are being adjusted to increase populations in some parts of the state and reduce it in others. The proposal would also issue 50 archery-only permits for different parts of the state.

Walt Driscoll, a taxidermist from Island Pond and a former member of the Fish and Wildlife Board, said moose are becoming harder to find in the Northeast Kingdom and few people would object to the reduced number of permits.

"Moose have been dying above and beyond the hunting season. There aren’t too many predators out there for moose," Driscoll said. "We like to have a few moose around in the summer for people to look at."

Biologists believe the warming climate is at least part of the problem.

Over the last few years biologists in Vermont have noted many moose are covered with ticks -- in some cases tens of thousands of them -- that are more common when winters are shorter. The ticks can stress the animals and reduce reproduction rates.

"Moose can easily become stressed by both warmer weather causing them to feed less and early spring snow melt that results in higher winter tick loads the following year," he said.

Meanwhile in New Hampshire, the state is cutting in half the number of moose permits that will be issued for the fall hunt, 124, down from 275.

In Maine, where the bulk of the state’s moose herd is further north, state wildlife biologists have recommended a slight decrease in the number of moose permits, from 4,110 in 2013 to 4,085 this year. Final approval is expected next month.

In Maine, the state is divided into 30 districts for moose hunting. Mark Latti of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said some districts have seen population increases and some have seen decreases. Overall, he said, "our moose population is stable and healthy right now."

The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board gave preliminary approval to the department’s moose hunting proposal on Wednesday. Before the numbers can be finalized the board must vote again, scheduled for April.

Meanwhile, members of the public can comment on the moose hunt proposals on the Fish and Wildlife website.