Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Connecticut moose elusive and still rare

New London, Conn. (AP) — Catching a Connecticut moose takes lots
of patience, a quick and steady hand at the tranquilizer dart-gun
trigger – especially from a cramped two-person helicopter getting
tossed by the wind – and keen eyesight. And more patience.

Three years ago, state wildlife biologist Andrew LaBonte began
to collect some basic data on the state’s small but growing moose
population.

Three weeks ago, after many hours of fruitless searching, he
darted his first moose, in the vast forests of Barkhamsted and
Hartland that surround the reservoirs supplying water to Hartford.
Before it woke up and wandered back into the forest, the bull moose
was measured, examined and fitted with a collar with a GPS tracking
device.

“You feel like you’ve won the lottery,” said LaBonte, who works
out of the Department of Environmental Protection’s wildlife office
in Franklin. “It was extremely exciting.”

True, these are 800-pound ruminants that spend a lot of time
eating saplings, bark and, in the summer, aquatic plants, but that
doesn’t mean they’re easy to find when you’re looking for them.
Their fur, darker than a deer’s, is well camouflaged in the forest
understory.

The best time and place to go looking for moose, LaBonte said,
is in the snow-packed winter forest, with the hardwood trees bare
of leaves.

“Connecticut is the southernmost end of their range,” he said,
between showing photos of the moose he darted last month and video
of another he spotted from the air but was unable to dart. “But
it’s unclear whether moose were originally native to
Connecticut.”

On a hand-held moose call machine, he pushed a button and out
came a mid-pitched moan, something like a cross between a baying
dog and a mooing cow: a recording of a female moose.

Other buttons would produce the wail of a moose calf or the
guttural moan of a mating bull. LaBonte also has a supply of
facsimile moose scent that he said smells like urine, only so much
stronger it’s almost unbearable.

“When you’re working to catch one of these creatures, you’ll try
anything,” he said. “There’s no way to bait them in, and there’s so
few of them, and they’re unpredictable.”

The only practical way he’s found to locate and dart the moose
is from a helicopter. That presents other challenges _ finding a
place to land near the darted moose, then calling the others on the
search to get them to the site, and then everyone bushwhacking to
the downed moose before it wakes up.

“The whole process takes a long time,” he said.

Based on sightings reported by the public and car-moose
accidents, the Connecticut moose population is estimated at 100,
including some that have been born here. While more common in
northern New England, parts of New York state and Minnesota, moose
have been moving into Connecticut from Massachusetts for the last
decade or so, LaBonte said, and the state needs to know more about
the ones that are here.

Most of the state’s moose are in the northwest corner, but there
have also been sightings in the northeast corner, in towns like
Woodstock, Union, Thompson and Stafford Springs. As part of the
project, LaBonte surveyed 600 people in those areas about moose. He
found that many still didn’t know the animals were in Connecticut,
and few people had strong sentiments about whether they were
causing any problems.

“In northwest and northeast Connecticut, there is really good
moose habitat,” LaBonte said. “But over the years they’ve also been
spotted in Old Lyme, Lyme and Westbrook. Once they start traveling
they move south through the state until they get hit by a car or,
if they’re lucky, we capture and move them.”

In 2003, laws were adopted to prevent the spread of chronic
wasting disease in wildlife so, when a captured moose is moved, it
has to be within the state.

The tagging project, funded by a grant and a voluntary income
tax checkoff, is intended to gather baseline data about where the
moose are going, their size, health, age and sex. The hope is to
collar at least two more this winter, and three more next
winter.

After each one is collared, LaBonte must return to the area
monthly to collect data on a handheld receiver from the GPS
transmitter. His first data collection excursion will come in a
couple of weeks on the moose tranquilized and collared on Jan. 30.
Ultimately, he hopes, the data will enable the state to determine
if it needs to develop a moose management program.

Since 1996, he said, there have been 20 moose-car accidents,
which can be serious because of the animals’ size.

“If the population continues to expand, it could lead to a
substantial number of moose-vehicle accidents,” he said. “And there
could be impacts in areas where there is timber harvesting, because
they eat 40 to 50 pounds of food a day,” much of it young
trees.

One aim of his project is to make people aware that moose are in
the state, and to be especially watchful when traveling through
heavily wooded areas at dawn or dusk, when moose tend to be on the
move. He’s also depending on the public’s help to make his project
a success.

“We’re looking for people to call us immediately when they see a
moose, not a week later,” he said. “The more details they can give
us, the better – the date, location, sex, what they’re doing.”

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