Alaska Moose Monitoring Workshop

Alaska Moose Monitoring Workshop

Climate change, declining budgets, and a shortage of experienced pilots and aircraft are among the top reasons moose managers in Alaska are finding it harder to track the status and trends of this important species. On April 24th and 25th, the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) collaborated with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the National Park Service (NPS) to convene the Alaska Moose Monitoring Workshop in Anchorage. The workshop brought together over 70 managers, researchers, and biometricians, to address the challenges to monitoring moose populations.

Attendees at the Alaska  Moose Monitoring Workshop

Moose are vitally important to Alaska’s subsistence and recreational hunters, wildlife viewers and economy. Both the State of Alaska and federal government are mandated to manage moose populations. Specific information needs vary across the state, but the ability to monitor the size, trend, and composition of moose populations is fundamental to sound, scientific management.

Moose population monitoring (including measures of abundance, composition, and trend) in Alaska has routinely involved aerial surveys flown in the fall and early winter, prior to antler drop, when sexes can be distinguished. These surveys rely on complete snow cover to optimize sightability. Over the past decade, delayed onset of snowfall has crippled biologists’ ability to monitor moose populations using existing protocols, especially in coastal regions.

Two additional factors create challenges for moose population monitoring. First, changes in Alaska’s human population, moose harvest patterns, and agency legal mandates have altered the types and amounts of information managers need to inform decisions regarding hunting seasons, bag limits, allocation among user groups, and predator management. Second, state and federal agency budgets for monitoring moose populations are static or declining.

The Alaska Moose Monitoring Workshop was intended to help identify ways to optimize use of current survey methods and explore options for innovative ways to assess moose populations. Major financial support for the workshop was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Western Alaska Landscape Conservation Cooperative. Additional support was provided by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Wildlife Management Institute.

Prior to the workshop, the organizers conducted a series of focus group discussions, individual interviews, and an online survey of moose biologists in Alaska and Yukon to gather information on issues and challenges related to monitoring moose populations. Results helped formulate the objectives of the workshop which were:

  • To examine the nature and frequency of challenges to monitoring moose populations.
  • To identify actions that can be taken now to improve achievement of survey objectives.
  • To examine potential alternatives to increase monitoring efficiency and effectiveness.
  • To identify and prioritize research needs to improve moose monitoring in Alaska.

The first day of the workshop consisted of a series of presentations and discussions about results of the pre-workshop survey, monitoring information needs, ways to improve Geospatial Population Estimation (GSPE) – the most commonly used method for estimating abundance – and alternative ways to monitor moose populations, including use of infrared-based surveys. On the morning of April 25th, participants were divided into two working groups that focused on 1) optimizing application of GSPE, and 2) exploring alternatives to GSPE. Each group identified concrete actions and potential research direction to help the agencies fulfill their public trust duties for moose in Alaska. Bruce Dale, Director of ADF&G’s Wildlife Conservation Division said he was impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of the workshop participants and welcomed their recommendations for moving forward.

Photo Credit
McCrea Cobb, USFWS
May 15, 2018