GHA 26 moose population recovering: Province
Tannis Zebedee grabbed a spectacular photo of a moose wading out into Emerson Lake earlier this week.
The moose population is recovering in Game Hunting Area (GHA) 26 which roughly covers the area north of Lac du Bonnet and Pine Falls to Bissett and Manigotagan, but there is still a lot of work to be done according to Manitoba Conservation biologists Kelly Leavesley, and Daniel Dupont from the Lac du Bonnet Regional Office.
Back in 2010, the province announced the closing of moose hunting after a survey showed a moose population range between 675 - 972.
Winter surveys conducted from Jan. 8 to Feb. 4, 2013 found that the moose population in GHA 26 is recovering.
The estimated count based on aerial survey was about 1,307 give or take a 17 per cent range, which means that the population is somewhere between 1,081 to 1,531.
There are many factors that affect moose populations in an area.
“What is happening here can be very different than in the Whiteshell or, say, in Minnesota,” said Kelly Leavesley of Manitoba Conservation, referring to the moose population collapse in Minnesota.
One factor is access by humans into GHA 26. Working with local groups, nine roads were decommissioned in the area. First Nations took the lead and did the work of decommission to help the moose population recover.
A ban on hunting of moose and reduced road access is one factor in helping reduce the human factor in the decline of the moose population.
Interesting, Conservation’s Daniel Dupont explained that roads in a wilderness area also help wolves in hunting large game animals, making them more effective predators.
Another factor that affects moose population is the amount of new growth forest, whether from fire or logging. Of the two types, Dupont explained that forest fires are more effective.
“Forest fires are good since it creates new habitat for moose that is good for 20 to 30 years,” said Dupont. One thing that has been noticed in the moose surveys of 2006, 2010, and 2013 is that the highest density of moose populations have occurred in logging and past forest fire areas.
“There haven’t been large fires in the area for the past 15 years,” said Dupont.
Forest fires are more effective in helping moose, explained Dupont, who pointed out that fires return more nutrients to the soil for future plant growth, but also purge an area of parasites that can affect the moose.
Surveying has been done three times since 2006, and the next likely time the area will be surveyed is 2016. But it is an important tool because it can also be used to see the interaction between the deer and moose populations in GHA 26.
When the two population densities of deer and moose are overlapped, it shows that where there is a high deer population density, the moose population density is correspondingly low. A factor that can explain this is the habitat in GHA 26, where whitetailed deer like the mixed forest, willow, and farmland.
Conservation has allowed hunters to take more deer in the area to help lower their numbers. Partly, this is to help reduce the transfer of parasites from deer to snails to moose.
Deer heads that are turned into conservation are also studied to see if they are infected with parasites.
“Of the 27 deer heads that we examined, the majority of them had the parasites that causes brain worm,” said Dumont.
Besides hunting,the biggest factor that will affect deer populations is winter weather. Mild winters like 2006, 2010, and 2012 allow greater survival rates. This past year a colder winter combined with more snow would have made it more difficult for deer to survive.
The third factor that could affect moose population is the wolves. Conservation is trying to understand what portion of the wolves’ diet is composed of moose, and are working with local trappers and U of M students to help find this information. The number of wolves being trapped has also been increased so this information can be collected and an analysis done.
Surveying moose populations requires two methods. The first involves flying and GPS tracking of tracks and moose being spotted. Using a fixed wing aircraft, the purpose of the first flight is to find the general concentrations of moose, which is why deep snow is very helpful in this first pass.
A second pass is done of selected areas that had high, medium and low concentration of moose using a helicopter at a closer level to the ground, so that the sex of the moose can be determined.
From this information an estimate of the number of bulls, cows, and calves can be made. It should be noted that a higher the ratio of calves to cows is an important indictor of the ability of future growth in a population.
In the 2010 survey, the ratio of calves to cows was 31 to 100 cows, while in 2013, the ratio had increased to 35 to 100.
A first in Manitoba is putting GPS collars on moose.
“No one has put GPS collars on moose in Manitoba before,” said Kelly Leavesley. The collars are useful since they track the daily movement of the moose and indicate when they are calving. One thing that has been noticed is that when the weather has been warm in winter, the moose are generally inactive versus cold weather.
In Minnesota where moose populations have been collapsing, officials there have put 100 GPS collars on moose.
The purpose besides general movement patterns is finding out if it is wolves, parasites, lack of food or stress that is causing the moose to die. When they perish, their bodies can be easily located and retrieved.
People getting educated about moose is important, according to Dupont.
Dupont pointed out that there is no single factor in causing a moose population to decline and that more time is needed to study the situation in GHA 26.