Maine’s wildlife biologists continue to keep a watchful eye on moose. May and June are the months that Maine moose give birth, and as part of the GPS collar study that the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is conducting in the Jackman/Greenville area, state biologists are using GPS data to sneak into the woods and see if moose are indeed producing baby moose.

This is just one aspect of the five-year moose study designed to provide a greater understanding of the health of Maine’s moose population, particularly factors that affect their survival and reproductive rates.

Over the last two years, GPS collars were placed on moose calves and adult female cow moose in the Jackman/Greenville district. They send a location signal to satellites periodically, so biologists have an eye in the sky monitoring movements. Locations and movements are watched on a computer screen, or even a smart phone.

These moose movements, or lack of movements, are one of the keys to the study. If a moose doesn’t move for a set period of time, the collar sends a mortality signal. The signal triggers a visit by biologists to conduct a field necropsy.

But adult cow moose will also limit their movements as they prepare to give birth. Once this begins to happen, a biologist will hike into the woods to locate the moose and determine whether there’s a calf with the mother.

Sometimes it can take several trips to confirm the calf, and with some moose, biologists may not ever see the calf and be able to confirm whether there was a birth.

So what is exactly happening when it comes to birth rates of Maine moose? This year biologists have confirmed that 10 of a likely 20 cows had calves. Why likely? It’s hard to determine the age of some moose, and moose don’t give birth until they are nearly 3 at the earliest. Last year, 11 of 18 cows had calves.

These numbers don’t tell the whole story concerning reproduction as well because calves are susceptible to bears, coyotes and other predators before a biologist may be able to confirm a birth. That’s why biologists will examine the ovaries of hunter-harvested moose and conduct aerial flights to determine cow/calf dynamics, in addition to the walk-ins, to see if an adult has given birth.

The radio-collar study is just one component of the research. Aerial flights assess population and the composition of the moose herd. During the moose hunting season, teeth are examined to determine a moose’s age, antler spread is measured, which is an indicator of health, and the number of ticks a moose carries is counted and monitored, along with examining ovaries to determine reproductive rates.

And stay tuned because there could be more. There is talk of possibly creating another moose study area, this one in northern Maine. While the current study has provided valuable data, it provides a picture in a relatively small area of Maine. The potential for another study farther north in the commercial timberlands of the state would provide even more information concerning Maine’s moose.

The idea of additional study areas has worked well with other IFW wildlife research projects, most notably the bear study, which uses three separate and distinct study areas. Each study area provides information on different habitats that are representative of areas of the state.

Of course, getting good data also takes time. It’s the main reason the moose GPS study duration is five years. Rushing to judgment based on only one or two years of biological data can lead to trouble. Mother Nature loves her averages, and watching trends over an extended period provides the best infomation.

So next time you see a moose, rest assured you’re not the only one keeping an eye on it.

Mark Latti is a registered Maine guide and the landowner relations/recreational access coordinator for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.