Moose study near Jackson underway
47 moose radio collared in February for 2-year study
by Wyoming Game & Fish
February 28, 2005
As Wyoming continues to contend with a dwindling Jackson moose population, researchers with the Game and Fish Department hope a new study will provide some answers. During the week of February 14, biologists from the Wyoming Game and Fish, University of Wyoming, U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service successfully fitted 47 moose with radio collars to track the animals' movements over the next two years. Twenty of the collars were Global Positioning System (GPS) collars, which will collect a continuous stream of data on the animals' movements on a daily basis.
Most of the moose were darted by helicopter then approached by biologists on the ground once the animal was immobilized. Some moose were approached and darted from the ground. Once immobilized, a number of tissue samples were collected to assess the animal's health. Blood, hair and fecal samples were collected for lab analysis. An ultrasound was also done to assess each animal's body fat content. Additional tasks included an examination of tooth wear and the presence of ticks, which moose are highly susceptible to in late winter. Finally, each animal received ear tags and a neck collar to allow tracking of their movements.
"We were real pleased with how smoothly everything went," said Doug Brimeyer, Jackson Wildlife Biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. "All the moose appeared to be in pretty good body condition, which is what you'd expect with the relatively mild winter conditions we have experienced so far this winter"
The study is being initiated as the Game and Fish plans to propose closing the hunting season for next fall in Moose Hunt Areas 7, 14, and 32 in the Teton Wilderness. "To this point, our only tool to help this herd has been to reduce the hunting pressure, said Jackson Wildlife Biologist Doug Brimeyer. "We've been reducing the number of permits in the Teton Wilderness hunt areas for over 10 years now, but the population has continued to decline." The Game and Fish has cut the number of hunting permits in the Jackson moose herd unit from a high of 495 in 1991 to just 75 in 2004.
This study comes on the heels of previous research done on Jackson moose by Dr. Joel Berger with the Wildlife Conservation Society. "We got some good information from Joel's work and we are utilizing his data to formulate a fine scale movement and survival study of those animals that winter in the Buffalo Valley area," said Brimeyer. "This study calls for collaring more animals of both sexes, which should give us a more comprehensive look at the herd."
The study is being made possible through the WYDOT partnership. WYDOT contributed $50,000 to help make the study happen. During most of the moose study, WYDOT will be supervising reconstruction of US 26/287 between Togwotee Pass and Moran. "WYDOT's primary goal with the GPS collars will be gaining information to help us evaluate moose movements relative to right-of-way fences, existing vegetation and clear zones," said WYDOT spokesman Cody Beers. "This moose movement study should help us learn about how moose use areas near highways, and we hope to gain valuable information about how the moose in Buffalo Valley react to this highway improvement project."
"The bottom line is, there's still a lot to learn about this moose population," says Brimeyer. "We know that predators are killing some moose, but we also learned from Dr. Berger's research that moose are dying from other factors as well. Being able to monitor this many animals should give us a clearer picture as to what's going on."
A similar moose study was recently initiated in the Snowy Range west of Laramie. In December, wildlife researchers fitted 16 cow moose with GPS collars to track their movements. This moose population is a relatively new population to Wyoming, expanding into the Snowy Range from a moose introduction effort in northern Colorado. "They seem to have a thriving population, while ours is struggling," commented Brimeyer. "So it will be interesting to compare the information gathered on these two populations."