Mixed news for Utah’s moose
November 7, 2014
Utah’s moose don’t seem to be giving birth to too many calves of late, but the survival rate of those calves is very good, according to Kent Hersey, big game project manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
In 2012, the division outfitted 120 moose — 60 on the North Slope of the Uinta Mountains and 60 in the Wasatch Back area, from "Heber to the Tabby Mountain area" — with electronic radio collars that are used to track and study the same moose over several years.
In the summer of 2013, DWR conducted a calf survey of the collared moose, then followed up with another survey a year later.
"We revisited those animals via helicopter survey in March and the good news is, even though we had relatively low calf output, our calf survival estimates were very high," Hersey said. "What cow moose do is they keep their calves with them throughout the year and then they kick them off in the spring when they’re ready to give birth again. So we can do a survey in late winter, and if they still have the calf, we can get an estimate on calf survival.
"Those survey results were very encouraging. We didn’t have great output necessarily, but a lot of them lived, which is always good news," he said.
Hersey said the DWR estimated 20 percent of the collared moose had a calf during the most-recent survey. It’s hard to say definitely that that’s a low number, however, because it is the first time the studies have been done. "That’s kind of what this research was started for — we didn’t have a good baseline of what ‘normal’ was," he said.
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Caveats aside, "We can say it’s on the low side," Hersey said. "We would definitely like it up in the 50s ideally. No doubt that it is low. But hopefully we’ll get good survival again and that can make up for it.
"The encouraging thing is that, of the collared adults we have, survival is estimated around 83 percent last year. So far this year, we’re at 90-93 percent. So our adults are living very well, which is good," he said.
Wasatch moose counts
"We survey roughly one-third of them every year," Hersey said of Utah’s moose. "Each unit is counted on a three-year basis and that’s generally in January when we have good snow conditions — it just makes them more visible, gives us tracks to follow."
The Wasatch moose population, which Hersey described as "the Park City area and over to Strawberry Reservoir and over towards Duchesne," was last counted in 2013, when 180 moose were tallied. That was a sizable drop from 2011, when 282 moose were spotted.
"Some of our concern was that we had pretty low calf output on the Wasatch," Hersey said of the lower number. The survival rate "was in the mid-80s, which is about normal."
Hersey attributed that drop, at least in part, to a low number of births and a mediocre survival rate.
The next Wasatch count is scheduled for January 2016.
"That will be the next real information we’ll have to see what’s going on with the Wasatch," Hersey said, adding that it’s a somewhat unusual moose habitat.
"The Wasatch by itself is very interesting habitat, comparatively. Up on the North Slope they’re using the willow bottoms, which is pretty classic moose habitat. On the Wasatch we don’t have a lot of willow bottoms so it’s very unique… and then the amount of time they spend on those mountain mahoganies and brush areas is very odd. But they seem to be doing fairly well. They just kind of go with it."