Weather hampers moose survey

MARQUETTE – Poor weather is making it to count the number of moose in the Upper Peninsula, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR surveys the moose population every two years. The census is based on the number of animals spotted by crews flying over prime moose range in Baraga, Iron and Marquette counties.

It’s typically done in January, when the ground is covered with snow, which makes it easier to see the animals.

“For much of January, most of the survey area did not have sufficient snow cover to allow us to effectively spot moose from the air,” DNR wildlife biologist Bill Scullon said. “Once we did get some snow, the air temperatures and wind speeds were too extreme to allow for safe operation of our aircraft. We are now hoping for more moderate weather so we can get up in the air and take advantage of the recent snowfall before the survey period ends.”

When the aerial moose survey was first designed in 1997 as a method of monitoring the state’s moose population, the month of January was chosen as the most desirable survey period, as survey trials found it to be the most successful time of year to sight moose from the air.

“Adding unknown variables into the equation by surveying the moose population too far outside of the established survey period would make it difficult to accurately compare the results to previous estimates,” DNR wildlife researcher Dean Beyer said. “Having reliable estimates of moose abundance is essential to making sound management decisions, including discussions about a possible harvest season.”

The DNR is in the process of developing regulations for a possible U.P. moose hunting season.

Approximately 20 percent of the survey was completed in early January before record high temperatures resulted in a loss of snow cover. With the recent turnaround in weather patterns, Scullon said there is a chance the survey could still be successfully completed, dependent on what the next week brings for weather conditions.

“We have staff and multiple aircraft ready to go for a maximum effort,” Scullon said. “We remain cautiously optimistic that we may be able to complete the survey this year, but if weather conditions prevent that from happening, plans will be discussed to re-survey the area in 2014.”