If a moose falls in the forest, does anybody know?
Based on a major five-year provincial study underway in the central Interior, biologists not only know but fly out on helicopters as soon as possible to determine cause of death.
There are 175 moose fitted with radio-collars in five study areas, ranging from near Fort St. James south to the Bonaparte region northwest of Kamloops.
When a collar, equipped with GPS technology, detects that a moose hasn’t moved for several hours, that’s a sign the animal is dead — and biologists are alerted by email.
“It could be 11 p.m., but by the next morning we want to be up and already mobilized,” said Gerry Kuzyk, an ungulate specialist with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. “We have helicopter contracts in place, trucks in place, a rapid response. That’s the intensity we’re working at in this project. I think we’re pretty much state of the art now.”
Speaking at the B.C. Wildlife Federation’s weekend convention, Kuzyk described a case near Big Creek in the Chilcotin a year ago in which they found the rear of a cow moose chewed by wolves. The animal didn’t die at the time of the attack, but later from blood poisoning due to bacteria in the wolves’ mouths.
If they hadn’t got to the scene right away, a bear might have started eating the carcass, making it impossible to determine what really happened.
“This is a key part of our research,” Kuzyk said. “We need to get out there right away.”
So far, 19 collared moose have died: nine were killed by wolves, three by unregulated hunting, three due to starvation, one by a vehicle collision and three due to unknown causes.
Forty to 50 dead moose are required to get a good handle on how they are dying. Research, which has found no evidence of diseases, will continue through 2018.
The ministry estimates there are more than 160,000 moose across the province.
The study is designed to determine the cause behind a serious decline in moose populations in the Interior and how it might be related to beetle-killed lodgepole pine forests. The theory is that vast clearcuts and new logging roads have made the moose more vulnerable to hunting by humans and wild predators.
GPS data also tell researchers where each moose had been in the days before it died, such as a dead pine forest or one logged with extensive access roads.
Preliminary results show that collared animals are exceeding the typical 85-per-cent survival rate for moose in the wild, which may indicate that the moose decline has slowed or stopped. The study is a collaboration with academic researchers, the forest industry and First Nations.
Most research projects ask hunters not to shoot a collared animal, but not this one. Researchers need to know the degree to which human hunters are involved in the population declines.
The Vancouver Sun reported in 2012 that surveys by the province had discovered serious moose declines:
• A 70-per-cent drop since 1997 in the 5,000-square-kilometre Nass Wildlife Area near Terrace.
• A 60-per-cent drop in the Anahim Lake/Dean River area and 17-per-cent decline in the Rose Lake-Miocene area.
• A 50-per-cent drop since 2005 around Prince George.
• A 20-per-cent drop since 2004 in the Bulkley Valley-Lakes District in west-central B.C.