Researchers look to moose calves for answers
By Mike Lynch
Scientists are hoping a new study focused on moose calves will provide clues as to why New York’s moose population hasn’t grown as anticipated.
“We’re really taking a hard look at some factors that are potentially limiting our population in New York,” said senior wildlife biologist Paul Jensen, of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The DEC estimates the population to be between 550 to 900 moose in northern New York. The animals can be found anywhere in the Adirondack Park, but are most common in logged areas.
Moose returned to the Adirondacks in the 1980s after disappearing in the 19th century.
Scientists believe the biggest cluster is just north of Paul Smiths, where there are conservation easement lands and logging operations.
Jensen said scientists want to know why so many moose have populated this area, yet have lower numbers in some similar habitats.
To answer this question and others, scientists are tracking more than a dozen young moose, hoping to learn more about their movements and how they die.
In January, researchers put GPS collars on 14 moose — 12 calves that are roughly six months old and two about 16 to 20 months old. Additional animals will be fitted in the future.
The collars track the animals’ movements, including when they leave their families at about 16 months.
In addition, when a moose dies, a field crew can locate it, and do an evaluation to determine cause of death. When possible, the team will recover it for a comprehensive necropsy.
Young moose can fall prey to larger animals such as black bears, but researchers want to learn more about parasites such as liver flukes, brain worms and winter ticks, and the diseases they pass on.
Scientists are particularly concerned about winter ticks, which have caused population declines in New Hampshire and Maine. Tens to hundreds of thousands of these parasites have been found on moose, causing them to weaken and die.
And calves have been found to be particularly vulnerable.
An article published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology in 2018 found that winter ticks were the No. 1 cause of death for moose calves studied in New Hampshire and Maine from 2014 to 2016.
As part of the New York study, scientists are also examining how much the ranges of moose and white-tailed deer overlap. Deer carry many parasites and diseases that afflict moose, including winter ticks, yet aren’t impacted as much.
To determine the range overlap, scientists will be monitoring trail cameras that were installed this past fall. They will also look at the images to look for hair loss on moose, a symptom of winter tick infestation.
They will also be examining white-tailed deer pellets and water sources to determine the presence of brain worm and liver fluke across the landscape. Larvae from these parasites are found in deer scat, where they are picked up by snails and then incidentally consumed by foraging moose.
DEC is partnering with Cornell University, the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and Native Range Capture Services for this project.
The research has cost about $700,000 so far and has been funded by a Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration grant through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that reimburses the scientists for their work. These funds are collected through federal excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment, and then apportioned to states for wildlife conservation.
Hunting moose is not allowed in New York because they are a protected species.
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Laurette Wright says
We had moose tracks in the sand in front of our house this past late fall 2021 in Saranac NY.
It was very exciting to see these large prints so close to us.
Our friends had footage of moose frequenting the left side of the road, where rt. 30 meets the highway stretch past Santa Clara.. the part where you come past st Regis falls, through the Santa Clara part and there’s no cell service on that stretch. Takes you right up to 30. They were right off the road all the time in the brush.
David Pietkiewicz says
I believe the Moose Population may be reaching a plateau because of available habitat. The Science appears to show that the Moose population is highest in “managed” lands where cuttings and lumbering take place. These areas, of course, promote new growth and regeneration, which improve the Moose’s habitat among other species. This is why I believe the complete “hands-off segment of the “Forever Wild” Article of New York’s Constitution is somewhat misguided. Our Forever Wild Forest Lands might be better off managed for wildlife and perhaps lumber to a lesser extent. Mature forests are often barren.
Mature forests are only “barren” to the human eye. They are teeming with live. It doesn’t have to be big game. Those mature forests produce the most oxygen and absorb the most carbon dioxide. But nature has ways to clear forests. One are major storms – but the most prevalent is forest fires. Not fires started by humans – but naturally occurring fires. But when lighting strikes and starts a fire – humans want to put out the fire because it causes “disruption”. Native Americans noticed the natural phenomenon and would sometimes use fires themselves. Forest fires actually enrich the soil – in addition to bring about new growth from sunlight now touching the forest floor.
That and there are not enough natural predators to keep the herds with the most “fit” genes in the gene pool. That also is a factor for moose.
Amy Godine says
Thanks to Ed Burke for that wonderful opening montage! Such cool creatures, beautiful and spectral all at once.
I live in Alaska now see moose all over, I still they should transplant some from anchorage and Wasilla to New York they are used to living around people. This would enrich the gene pool there. I imagine that gene pool is fairly tight. Could use some refreshing. Can’t see how it would hurt. Maybe transplant 100 – 200 pregnant females and see what happens. I only see pod results. Maybe find some vaccine for brain worm and ticks. My motor is you don’t know unless you try. Moose are so abundant here. I think there’s at least thousand moose in the anchorage area.
We have had two separate bull moose sightings in Winona state forest over this last week. We are in Northern Oswego county and Southern Jefferson county