DEC addressing management of moose

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is in the preliminary stages of a moose research project that could help scientists get a better understanding of the moose population in New York.

DEC’s chief wildlife biologist Gordon Batcheller told the Enterprise that state wildlife biologists are in discussions with researchers from Cornell University and SUNY College of Environmental Forestry about the study. The Wildlife Conservation Society will also be involved, Batcheller said.

Moose were extirpated from the Adirondacks in the 1860s, according to the DEC’s website. They then began to be sighted again in the 1980s.

The state’s moose population – which is mostly based in the Adirondacks – is now estimated to be between 500 and 800 moose, Batcheller said. However, that number isn’t based on hard science and research.

“I’ll be the first to admit that is what we call in science a ‘soft estimate,'” Batcheller said. “I think it’s a reasonable estimate. I don’t think it’s off the mark by order of magnitude, but it’s a soft estimate and it certainly doesn’t tell us anything about where the population trend is heading.”

The work on the project is expected to start next spring and summer and be funded by money raised through the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, which gets its money from excise taxes on firearms and ammunition.

The goal of the research is to build a scientific foundation that DEC wildlife biologists can use to create a moose management plan. The research could take three to five years, Batcheller said. Biologists would then take a few more years to write the management plan.

One of the first questions that biologists have to answer is how to go about doing the moose population research. Because moose are large animals that live in remote forests, they are a difficult animal to keep tabs on and capture, as is often done with animal studies.

Batcheller said that common techniques such as using radio telemetry to track the animals will likely not be used because of these factors. Instead, scientists will look at using methods such as aerial surveys, thermal imagery technology and citizen science to come up with data.

“We’re basically going to bring together all the possible techniques that might be sensible for us, evaluate them in terms of which provide the most reliable indices of both population number and growth rate,” Batcheller said. “Then the management plan that we’ll eventually put into place will adopt the appropriate measure for long-term monitoring of moose in New York.”

One of the few studies done on New York moose in recent years was led by WCS, which conducted a study that analyzed DNA in moose scat from different populations in the northeast. The study found a distinct genetic difference between moose living north and south of the St. Lawrence River.

The results show that moose have moved between the four states of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine and the neighboring Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, but not so much between New York, Ontario and Quebec.

When asked by the Enterprise, Batcheller said this will be one of the research methods considered by the state.

Once the data is compiled and it’s time to write the research plan, DEC will look at some of the issues involving moose, such as hunting, vehicle accidents and relocation proceeders, the latter of which is already addressed by DEC guidelines. It will also look at the best way to monitor moose on a long-term basis.

Some of the potential challenges to the future of the moose population will also by analyzed. This includes issues such as how moose will respond to a warming climate, the existence of winter tick and brainworm and the habitat available in New York.

“This is really exciting for us. It’s important research. I think it will be of great interest to the public,” Batcheller said. “We’ll do everything we can as the research goes forward to keep people informed about our progress and see if we can see opportunities for people to hear directly from our researchers and see for themselves how they do this work. I think it’s really great stuff and will be both interesting and very important for DEC and stakeholders interested in wildlife in New York.”