Albany — New York wildlife officials have been watching moose gain a foothold in the northern reaches of the state for more than 30 years, and now they plan on taking a closer look.
Moose are actually making their second stand in New York.
The largest member of the deer family had a presence in the Adirondacks until they were wiped out in the 1860s.
But more than a century later, moose sightings started again in the early 1980s, and wildlife biologists believe they migrated into the Empire State from New England and Canada.
There could be as many as 500 to 800 moose in the northern wilderness – primarily in the Adirondacks. And DEC is planning to launch a formal study next year that officials hope will establish some hard scientific data, such as how many moose there are, how quickly the population is growing and expanding its range, and how best to manage it.
“What became clear is not only are moose wandering into New York, but that reproduction is occurring,” said Gordon Batcheller, chief of DEC’s Bureau of Wildlife.
“We’ve had moose on a transient basis coming in from Vermont over the last 30 years or so. But in the 1980s, we realized they had established residence with evidence of calf production,” Batcheller said. “What we’re doing now is we’re gearing up for some fairly sophisticated research next year. Really there are two fundamentals here. One is how many animals are there, second is growth rate as a population. In an animal like moose, those are hard questions. It’s hard enough with smaller species in a small area, but very hard with an animal like moose in large areas that are hard to get to.”
DEC will partner with Cornell University, the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse, and the Wildlife Conservation Society to conduct the study.
Much of 2014 will be spent developing protocol for the research project, Batcheller said. That could possibly include aerial surveys and utilizing hunters and hikers to report moose observations.
The ultimate goal will be to use the resulting data to develop a long-term management plan.
“We’re looking at three to five years of research. This is not a short-term project,” Batcheller said. “I think for this species, it has enormous value to people – wildlife viewing, photography, the economic impact. There are also some hazards when they are near a road. Once we get into a discussion about a management plan, there will be a lot of stakeholder interest in what we are doing and why. We want plenty of good data to back it up.”
The DEC at one time had a wildlife biologist – Al Hicks – whose work revolved primarily around monitoring the state’s moose. But Hicks’ duties eventually shifted to studying bats, and he has since retired.
It’s too early to predict if there might someday be a moose hunting season in New York, Batcheller said. A lot of research has to be done before that is even a topic for discussion, he added.
Neighboring Vermont has seen its moose population grow and has offered a hunting season via a limited lottery draw for permits since 1993. But that’s state’s moose population is estimated at 5,000, not the 500-800 – or perhaps toward 1,000 – currently in New York.
Despite the potential vehicle-moose collisions – several occur every year in the state – moose are generally seen as a welcome addition to the New York landscape.
“They are native to New York. There is an historical legacy of moose in this state,” Batcheller said. “They are well adapted to the Adirondacks. They are big animals and we have big woods. Our job is to determine trends so we can inform stakeholders what they can expect from the future. We’ll network with other researchers around the country to compare notes to put together the puzzle.”
(New York Outdoor News Editor Steve Piatt contributed to this story.)