Kenai residents will soon notice orange collars on some Kenai moose. The collars are a sign that Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists have initiated research to better understand the variety of factors affecting moose reproduction and survival on the Kenai Peninsula.
This work is in response to concerns raised by hunters regarding reduced hunting opportunities for moose on the Kenai Peninsula. Legal bulls have become increasingly hard to find for hunters and the low bull-to-cow ratio in the area has led to concerns about long-term hunting opportunities for Kenai moose. The ADF&G research begun this winter is a necessary step in understanding the complex situation.
“This will be the most extensive data on moose that we have ever collected on the Southern Kenai Peninsula. This is really crucial baseline information,” said Thomas McDonough, Assistant Area Biologist for the Division of Wildlife Conservation on the Kenai Peninsula. “From this, we’ll be able to direct future action based on the results.”
ADF&G biologists last month fitted 50 adult cows in Unit 15C with both radio collars and transmitters that emit a signal when calves are born. This work will help biologists determine pregnancy and calving rates of the adult cows. At the same time, biologists are assessing the body condition of each cow they handle as an index of habitat quality. Biologists will soon collar 50 additional cows in Unit 15A.
So far, cow moose in Unit 15C appear to be in decent condition, McDonough said. Biologists use scoring techniques developed for moose and measure rump fat thickness with a portable ultrasound to assess body condition. Biologists also determine the age of each cow handled to help assess age-specific pregnancy rates. Normally, most cow moose three years or older should give birth to one or more calves annually. If research finds that a significant portion of mature cows are not pregnant, it may indicate there aren’t enough bulls in the population to breed all the available cows. Or it may be nutrition is playing a more significant role.
The use of the transmitters in moose to determine the time of birth was first evaluated at ADF&G’s Moose Research Center on the Kenai and has since been used successfully in several ADF&G research projects.
Biologists on the Kenai will also be assessing causes of calf mortality later this spring to determine the significance of predation by wolves, bears or other factors. Newborn calves will be fitted with expandable radio collars to track them and determine survival rates. When calves die, biologists will be able to quickly locate the dead animals and determine the cause of death. The Department will also update its estimate of the numbers of moose and wolf on the Kenai Peninsula.
“There is a tremendous amount of information we are going to learn about the moose population and the factors affecting it in the next few months. The results of these studies will allow us to best manage the moose for long-term productivity,” McDonough said.