SCI Foundation has partnered with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (MFWP) on its moose population monitoring project. Moose populations in the Rocky Mountain West have experienced declines over the past two decades. In Montana, observed drops in harvest rates are causing concern. The objectives of the study are to evaluate the most cost-effective means to monitor the population, assess population status and trends, and measure the external factors influencing population growth.
MWFP is working to radio collar and monitor moose to track adult and calf survival, predation, and disease. They want to estimate the moose population status and growth rates by adult and calf survival rates and to weigh the importance of external ecological factors including predation, disease and habitat quality. With this model, researchers will be able to detect the strongest drivers of annual population growth. The study will lead to developing a better picture of moose population dynamics. To date, 69 adult female moose have been collared.
One of MFWP’s goals is to assess the potential for hunting to serve as a cost-effective monitoring tool. Aerial surveys have been completed in the past, but are expensive. By using harvest statistics from hunters, the project will maximize hunting opportunity and lower cost.
Moose populations are limited by a variety of different factors, including predation from wolves, bears, disease, forage quality, and climate-related stressors. Warm temperatures have been linked to increased metabolism and respiration and consequently decreased body mass and survival. Temperature and snow depth will be modeled for testing relationships to variations in the moose survival rates. At the time of capture, moose are assessed for winter tick load and blood samples are taken for disease testing. Increases in disease related mortality is making this approach an early research priority.
Information gathered from the MWFP study will provide a critical scientific foundation to understand the current population dynamics of moose in Montana. Further, this study will assist with management recommendations for moose populations across their range. SCI Foundation is proud to be supporting this important research and we look forward to keeping you updated.