Ready or not, autumn is upon us. The days are shorter, the nights are cooler and the airwaves are filled with back-to-school specials.
That means hunting season is right around the corner. Bear season starts in one week, the goose season the week after that and opening day for moose season is just one month away.
Moose hunting in Maine remains extremely popular, with nearly 50,000 hunters applying each year for a permit. Moose watching is also a preferred pastime among many, with visitors and residents alike on the lookout for Maine’s king of the forest. Unfortunately moose also have a tendency to wander onto Maine’s roadways, causing hundreds of accidents each year.
Monitoring Maine’s moose population is extremely important in order to balance the competing needs of safety, viewing and hunting. In order to balance the multiple demands, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife uses a variety of techniques to monitor the moose population, which now includes satellites.
This past winter, the wildlife biologists captured more than 50 moose cows and calves, and placed GPS radio collars on the animals. These collars send periodic location signals through a satellite to a server where biologists can monitor the movements of multiple moose simultaneously.
The GPS radio collars also allow Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists to locate moose mortalities, as the collar sends a mortality signal when the moose doesn’t move for an extended period of time. Biologists can also locate likely birthing areas by monitoring moose movements.
These features give biologists another tool to monitor mortality and reproduction rates of the moose population, which is estimated between 60,000-70,000 animals statewide. Perhaps more importantly, however, it gives biologists a chance to visually monitor calf survival.
According to Maine’s moose biologist Lee Kantar, calf survival is generally estimated at over 50 percent, with malnutrition and predators taking a significant share of the young animals.
Moose calves stay with their mother after birth. With GPS collars attached to the mothers, biologists, using a combination of radio telemetry with global positioning, can walk in and locate the mother, and visually see the calf.
These walk-in visits, conducted regularly during the summer, can give biologists a better understanding of calf survival. After the initial confirmation, biologists will then walk in once a week to see if the calf survives the summer.
Calves are very vulnerable during their first month, but after 12 weeks their chances of survival greatly increase, at least until winter. So far this summer, 10 out of 11 calves born have survived.
This is the first year of a five-year study and as with any research program, biologists are learning more as the study unfolds and caution from gleaning too much from one year of data.
For instance, when each adult female moose was captured and radio-collared last winter, a blood sample was taken. One of the many blood tests conducted showed that 18 of the 20 cows were pregnant, a 90 percent rate.
However, the visual walk-ins showed that 11 of these 20 cows gave birth (55 percent), a rate much lower than the blood test. Maine’s wildlife biologists are looking to lower that discrepancy.
The biological data gathered from radio-collared moose will be used in conjunction with research already being conducted in Maine. The department uses aerial flights to assess population and the composition of the herd. During hunting season, biologists also examine teeth, the number of ticks a moose carries and in some cases the ovaries to determine reproductive rates.
All this research combined gives biologists a more thorough understanding of Maine’s moose population, and allows for more informed management decisions in order to balance the competing needs on the species.
Mark Latti is a registered Maine Guide and the landowner relations/recreational access coordinator for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.