New Technology Used to Help Better Manage Moose
In an effort to better understand moose, biologists and researchers recently fitted 16 Snowy Range moose with global positioning system (GPS) collars that will compile location data for the next two years.
In addition to the location data, researchers will collect moose droppings to determine winter food preferences, monitor plant use to verify food availability and create geographic information system models to predict suitable habitat. Together these data will allow biologists to determine how many moose can live in the Snowy Range without damaging the habitat.
Wildlife managers have talked for decades about limiting wildlife numbers to what the land can sustain, more commonly known as "carrying capacity."
"While this is a good theory, the practice has proven to be elusive for managers across the country," says Bob Lanka, Game and Fish Department wildlife coordinator in Laramie.
Carrying capacity changes with precipitation levels, the condition of the plants and any natural or manmade disturbances to the land. The difficulty in understanding the concept is compounded by limited understanding about what habitats wildlife use, how much they use and when they use it.
This study is one step towards implementing new management practices to help achieve a better balance between moose and their habitat.
The department began considering the study two years ago but needed the funding and manpower to make it a reality. That is where researcher Eric Wald stepped into the picture. Wald, a doctoral candidate at the University of Wyoming in the Renewable Resources Department, has the credentials, skills and desire to undertake this long-term project.
Wald grew up in North Dakota, obtained an associate’s degree in wildlife management from Minot State University - Bottineau in 1997, a bachelor’s degree in both wildlife and fisheries science and range science from South Dakota State University in 2000. He received his master’s degree in 2003 from South Dakota State and then moved to Wyoming.
In December, a helicopter was used to dart the moose. That anesthetized the animals to attach GPS collars, collect blood samples and determine body condition. The team consisted of Wald, Laramie Region G&F biologist Rich Guenzel, G&F Wildlife Veterinarian Terry Kreeger and G&F Sybille Wildlife Research Unit researchers Clint Mathis and Curt Apel.
"From the location data automatically collected by the GPS collars we can specifically learn about home range sizes, any migration events, and, most importantly, habitat use throughout the year," says Wald. "These data will basically describe the daily life of a moose throughout the year and under different weather conditions. This is very exciting stuff, although it’s not unique research."
The department and UW have carefully considered the long-term benefits of the project, citing the knowledge of habitat ecology in the Snowy Range as a tool that will help better manage moose numbers.
"We don’t want to see a ‘boom and bust’ population of moose. This isn’t healthy for habitats moose use, the moose themselves, or other wildlife in the Snowy Range," says Wald. "We don’t want to see so many moose that they degrade specific habitats in regards to themselves and other species."
Moose are not native to the Snowy Range, originating from the expansion of an introduction to northern Colorado. Biologists believe careful consideration must be given to how non-native wildlife could damage habitat, and in turn influence native wildlife.
"In short, we need more information to better manage this population," says Lanka. "This particular study is an excellent example of how agencies and organizations can work together to accomplish something that will benefit wildlife."
Funding for the study was provided by the G&F, Governor’s Big Game License Coalition, Bowhunters of Wyoming and University of Wyoming-Renewable Resources Department.
Anyone interested in more details about the project can contact Wald to obtain a copy of his newsletter at: University of Wyoming, College of Agriculture, Dept. 3354, 1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82701, (307) 766-2972 or email@example.com.