Drones to Track Washington Moose
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has announced that it is working with wildlife researchers at the University of Montana to test the suitability of a drones to observe and document the presence of moose calves in northeast Washington, the department.
Researchers from the university’s cooperative wildlife research unit began the study in 2014 in cooperation with WDFW and other partners to study facts about moose populations- their movement, reproduction and their survival.
This week, a contractor for the university will fly an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) equipped with a video camera over radio-collared cow moose on public and private lands in Stevens, Pend Oreille and Spokane counties. The UAS will be flown over U.S. Forest Service lands and timberlands owned by Hancock Forest Management, Stimson Lumber Co. and Inland Empire Paper Co. The WDFW declared that all these private and government establishments have given permission for the drone to fly over their lands.
Rich Harris, a WDFW wildlife scientist, says the goal of the drone project is to document the presence of moose calves more safely, more efficiently and at a lesser expense than what has been possible with traditional wildlife surveying methods till date.
By flying the drone over 35 collared moose cows, researchers expect to be able to document the presence of nearby calves. Harris says the only other ways to conduct such research are either through close-up approaches on foot or by using a helicopter. Both these methods are less safe, require more time and are also costlier than using a drone.
Harris says the UAS will be flown only during daylight hours and at a maximum height of 400 feet. It will not be flown over people or buildings. He says the flight schedule was chosen keeping in mind that weekends and most major hunting seasons must be avoided for the study so as to have minimal interference or disturbance to recreationists.
The WDFW also said that the plan is to fly the drone when a ground crew is within about 700 feet of a radio-collared cow moose and clearly stated that recording of videos will involve filming of the wildlife and their habitat only.
Harris notes that researchers expect the drone will be less stressful to moose than traditional ground monitoring because moose have no overhead predation threats. If researchers conclude that the moose are not substantially disturbed by the drone and the UAS is also able to successfully document the calves, then there is a possibility of these drones being used for other wildlife research in Washington, the department added.