SHERIDAN — Wyoming Game and Fish is initiating a new moose research project in the Bighorn Mountains and extending the current project in the Snowy Range. Game and Fish will work with University of Wyoming Cooperative Research Unit looking at survival and mortality rates and causes, population performance and seasonal habitat use.
Wildlife management coordinator Doug Brimeyer said the study will use near real-time, satellite collars on moose scattered across the range. Each collar costs $2,500 with an additional $350 satellite uplink fee per collar to retrieve the data. Though there’s a less-expensive, store-on-board collar that could be used, Brimeyer said the benefits of having real-time data outweigh the costs.
If the study used the store-on-board collar, data wouldn’t be collected unless the collar was retrieved, which could take years. Satellite collars allow researchers to know quickly when a moose has died, allowing them to assess the location and condition of the animal and area. There’s also less chance of losing data altogether. Since satellite collars transmit data back to the user frequently, if the collar is lost or never returned, the data is not also lost, as it would be with a store-on-board collar. Depending on the lifespan left in the collar, it’s possible to reuse collars on another animal if the initial moose dies.
Brimeyer said the money for the project is coming from Game and Fish’s budget. When the Bighorn project was presented at the Game and Fish Commission meeting on Nov. 9, the group asked for $190,000 for year one of the project. The Commission, wanting an enhanced analysis from the study, offered to raise that amount to $240,000; a $50,000 increase. The Snowy Range project was allotted $150,000 to continue, though it was supposed to end this year. Brimeyer said a major reason for Bighorn getting the additional funds is that it includes extra startup costs that the Snowy Range doesn’t need as a continuing project.
The next step is to finalize study details with UW, and this now includes where to put the extra money. One possibility is to buy more collars and to expand the sample size, which originally was estimated at about 40 moose.
The funds the Commission committed this year are to implement the study; Game and Fish will have to return to the Commission each year with an update of the project and budgets will be presented.
District wildlife biologist Tim Thomas said the sample group in the Bighorns will be primarily female adult moose with a wide distribution across the range. They’re especially interested in pregnancy, body condition, nutrition and survival. He said factors in the Bighorns that are unlike other areas in Wyoming are that different habitat types are available for moose, and this can impact the health and condition of the animal. He also said the Bighorns don’t have large predators like grizzly bears that affect mortality.
The study will be implemented late this winter. It should wrap up in spring 2019, giving Game and Fish a better ability to manage moose populations.