Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists will better understand the Chilkat Valley’s moose population after it begins a new capture and collar study this spring.

Since 1959, Fish and Game biologists have counted as many moose as they could from a plane. The technique is called the “minimum count” and the ability for biologists to count moose depends on the weather.

“In 2014 we only counted 140 something moose because the conditions were horrible,” Fish and Game area biologist Carl Koch said. “We couldn’t get out there until March. We assumed a lot of moose moved up into the forest. You can assume you missed some, but you don’t know how many.”

Biologists aim to collar 20-30 cow moose. While they’ll still continue to fly and spot moose, after they attach VHF radios to the animals, they’ll be able to identify each moose based on the radio frequency of its attached collar. Identifying additional moose in this way will enable scientists to estimate a population range instead of relying on the guesswork involved in only spotting the animals from a plane.

“They don’t capture the location but they allow us to listen with a receiver and hear where they are and hear if they’re alive or dead when we look for them in the future,” Koch said. “This will let us know from year to year the population, if it’s stable, growing or shrinking with a lot more confidence.”

After they tranquilize a moose, biologists will analyze the animal’s overall health. They’ll use an ultrasound to measure its body fat, determine its age by pulling a tooth and check for parasites to glean the population’s characteristics.

In April, biologists will measure plants to see if moose are browsing in the area, which is an indication of the animals’ range, Koch said. In May or June, they’ll scan for the collared moose and see how many calves were born. “We’re going to do a couple of flights to find the cow to see whether they have a calf or not,” Koch said. “We can fly in the fall to see if they kept their calves or if they have two calves. Twinning is a sign of a really healthy population and a really healthy habitat. We don’t see too many twins in the Haines area (because) we don’t know whether some of those cows had two and lost one or not.”

The radio batteries last 15 years, although Koch can’t say for sure the study will last that long. Koch briefed the Upper Lynn Canal Fish and Game Advisory Committee Monday evening. Committee member Derrick Poinsette asked Koch if Fish and Game planned to monitor the moose all 15 years. “I think we’re looking pretty good for at least three years,” Koch said. “If nothing else every year we go out and try and count them, we’d be able to keep using those collars on the moose that survive. I can’t promise that we could keep getting funding to replace collars for 15 years.”

Committee member Stuart DeWitt asked if tranquilizing pregnant cows would harm them. “I’m curious about the timing of collaring a bunch of pregnant cows two months before they’re due to give birth,” DeWitt said. “That’s something I think would be unnecessary stress on a mother.”

Koch said they have conducted similar studies in Berners Bay and Gustavus without incident.

Koch told the CVN that they need to collect a few years of data, and that they think the Chilkat Valley moose population is doing well.

The data will further their mission to provide a maximum sustainable harvest for hunters, Koch said.