Moose populations are susceptible to large population swings in the southern extent of their range, including the Shiras subspecies in Montana’s Rocky Mountain west. Here hunter harvest levels have been slowly declining over the past two decades, with state issued permits dropping 40% from 1995 to 2010. The shared concern of hunters and state wildlife managers initiated a ten year research project in 2013 to better understand moose population dynamics. SCI Foundation joined this collaborative effort last year.
Montana suffers from a lack of data to monitor moose population trends and prescribe proper management actions. However, wildlife biologists with the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (MFWP) are using hunter harvest statistics as a cost-effective way to study moose numbers in the state. Montana moose hunters will provide valuable information and observations to this long-term project.
The MFWP research team is looking at trends in hunter harvest as an indirect indicator of moose ecology, but also directly studying individual moose. To date, 80 adult female moose have been darted from helicopters and collared with GPS trackers. With this large sample size the biologists will be able to examine factors like predation, disease and habitat quality, and their combined influence on population growth. The team recently launched a new phase of research employing remote camera trapping to estimate multi-predator species overlap within the moose study areas.
Preliminary research indicates that moose populations in the Cabinet-Fisher and Rocky Mountain Front study areas are stable or increasing, although the population in the Big Hole Valley area appears to be decreasing. As the body of research becomes more robust in the coming field seasons we will begin to better understand Montana’s moose decline and be able to use the data to inform management decisions.
Hunters provide a unique instrument for scientific research that will lead to direct management applications for moose in Montana. This approach to gather data from harvest information is an example of how hunters and hunting contribute directly to wildlife conservation.
Visit the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website here to learn more about this moose project. SCI Foundation is invested in conserving this species and also funds an ongoing research project on moose in New Hampshire.