Nineteen adult moose will be captured and fitted with telemetry collars this month as part of a continuing project to investigate the potential effects of climate change and other factors on the long-term viability of moose in Voyageurs National Park.
The project is a collaborative effort among scientists from Voyageurs National Park, the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute, and the U.S. Geological Survey which commenced last year.
Park officials are concerned about the long-term viability of its moose population given recent declines in moose populations in other parts of Minnesota and adjacent Ontario. Among factors possibly causing the decline are chronic stress related to warmer summer and winter temperatures and lethal effects of parasites transmitted by white-tailed deer such as brainworm and liver flukes.
Voyageurs National Park is home to a moose population of between 50-90 animals, according to recent surveys.
The study’s collars will be outfitted with GPS receivers that will record each animal’s position every 20 minutes. Locations of the collared moose will be transmitted to project investigators via the ARGOS satellite system, providing a remote system to monitor animal movements in near real-time. The collars can signal when a moose has died to allow quick retrieval of the collar and a determination of death, if possible.
Each collar is also fitted with external temperature and activity sensors. The collars are capable of storing more than 24 months of location, sensor, and activity data. The collars are programmed to automatically drop-off the animals in the winter months of 2013.
This month’s capture effort includes the recapture of 11 moose collared in Voyageurs National Park last February. More than 50,000 GPS locations have been received to date from these collars documenting movements, activity, and ambient temperature throughout the year. The collars from the recaptured moose will be removed to download remaining data on the collars. The moose will then be fitted with new collars that will last until the end of the project in 2013.
“Moose seek cooler temperatures on relatively hot days”, Dr. Steve Windels, Terrestrial Ecologist for Voyageurs National Park said in a media release. “We will be able to identify forest and wetland types that moose use as cover when thermally stressed.”
Some of the new collars may be placed on moose captured on state lands immediately adjacent to Voyageurs National Park in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Moose readily move between the park and adjacent lands where land management practices differ from those inside the park, allowing researchers to study how moose behave in relation to changes in forest structure and composition caused by management.
Moose will be captured using netguns fired from a single helicopter. Netted animals are restrained to allow handlers to safely attach collars and collect data related to animal health. Blood and fecal samples will also be collected from each moose as part of a collaborative effort with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to assess moose population health throughout the State. The capture operation will be conducted by a private company, Quicksilver Air Inc., that specializes in the capture of wild animals from helicopters. Wildlife veterinarians from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will also be on-site.
Some snowmobile trails may be temporarily closed inside Voyageurs National Park to allow for safe capture operations while the helicopter is in the immediate vicinity of a snowmobile trail. Closed trails will be adequately marked or staffed by NPS personnel to alert park visitors. Closed trails may include the Chain of Lakes trail and the overland portages of the Ash River to Kettle Falls trail. The capture operation is expected to be completed in two to three days between January 21-31.