Moose populations in western Wyoming have fallen so low that the Game and Fish Department is considering closing the hunting season in parts of the region.
JACKSON, Wyo. Moose populations in western Wyoming have fallen so low that the Game and Fish Department is considering closing the hunting season in parts of the region.
Now, the Game and Fish and the Wyoming Department of Transportation are teaming up to study why populations are falling, and what can be done about it.
Game and Fish spokesman Mark Gocke said biologists would fit between 40 and 45 moose with global positioning system radio collars, so that biologists can study the animals' movements over the next two years.
"The bottom line is, there's still a lot of speculation out there as to why our moose population continues to decline ...," Jackson wildlife biologist Doug Brimeyer said in a statement. "Some say it's predators, some say it's habitat, drought or poor nutrition, at this point we really don't know."
Game and Fish would like to see about 3,600 moose in the herds that live around Jackson. Right now, that number seems a faraway goal.
An estimated 2,700 animals were in the herds around Jackson in 2003, up from an average of about 2,400 animals from 1998 through 2002.
Despite that single-year rise, overall moose numbers in the region have gone down over the years, forcing Game and Fish to respond by reducing the number of hunting permits. A record 495 moose permits were issued in 1991; that number dropped to just 75 permits last year, and now Game and Fish is considering prohibiting moose hunting in areas 7, 14 and 32 in the Teton Wilderness.
"To this point, our only tool to help this herd has been to reduce the hunting pressure," Brimeyer said. "We've been reducing the number of permits in the Teton Wilderness hunt areas for 10 years now, but the population has continued to decline."
Some have blamed the introduction of predators, particularly wolves, for the drop in moose populations.
But Joel Berger, a senior scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, said a decade-long study he conducted showed that wolves had little effect on moose populations.
Berger's study indicated that malnutrition and starvation were the main culprits in the drop in moose populations. About 14 to 18 percent of mortality in the Jackson area was caused by grizzly bears, and about 8 percent were caused by car crashes. Wolves accounted for just 2 percent.
Brimeyer said the new study would build on Berger's findings.
"This study calls for collaring more animals of both sexes, which should give us a more comprehensive look at the herd," Brimeyer said.
WYDOT spokesman Cody Beers said the study could help direct the planned reconstruction of U.S. Highway 26/287 over Togwotee Pass.
"We want to rebuild the highway with the least impact on local wildlife," Beers said. "This moose movement study should help us to do that, while gaining valuable information about how the moose in Buffalo Valley react to the highway and highway improvement project."
Source: Associated Press