Moose Population Survey

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This April, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) conducted an aerial survey for moose in the Moosehead Lake area. Moose densities east of Moosehead Lake were determined to be at least 1.3 moose per square mile.

With financial assistance from Safari Club International, IFW contracted with AirScan Inc. to conduct an aerial survey this past spring. The survey was conducted by specially trained observers from an aircraft equipped with infrared sensors, video equipment, and a computer that aided in the detection of moose. Infrared sensors detect the body heat of an animal and portray the animal as a bright white image against a dark background on a video screen. AirScan has conducted numerous wildlife surveys, including moose surveys for New Hampshire's Fish and Game Department.

"The survey shows us that there are enough moose in that area to both justify the number of permits available to hunters and to provide plenty of opportunity for wildlife watchers," said Ken Elowe, director of resource management for IFW. 100 permits were issued in that area for the 2001 moose season. "It can not detect moose under the cover of coniferous forests, so we know there are more moose present that the survey could not detect."

The high costs of these aerial surveys (approximately $50,000 per wildlife management district) limits the area of the state that IFW could survey this year. Wildlife Management District (WMD) 9, which encompasses the Greenville and Moosehead Lake region, was selected as the most critical area of the state to survey. Moose hunting and viewing are very popular in that WMD.

"After the legislature voted to allow us to manage the moose population in Maine, it became clear that we needed better population information," said Elowe, "there is a new era of management - and expectations. The public has told us that they want to balance moose watching with hunting, and we need more accurate population counts to do that."

Due to the high cost and the limited area that can be surveyed each year, in order to decrease the cost of keeping track of the moose population, IFW is proposing to develop a model which would require only a fraction of the state's 30 WMDs to be surveyed for moose. This model will use population estimates from a few aerial surveys, along with the number of moose seen by deer hunters, to estimate moose densities. New Hampshire Fish and Game is using a similar method to estimate moose densities in their state.

In this WMD, Thirty-seven randomly selected areas, ranging in size from 5.8 mi to 10.9 mi, were surveyed. In all, 256.5 mi, or 27% of the land area of WMD 9, was surveyed. A total of 259 moose were seen during the survey. This figure was adjusted for the number of moose likely missed and the size of the survey area, to come up with a preliminary population estimate of 1,280 moose for WMD 9 (959 mi) or 1.3 moose / mi.