THE FOLLOWING IS A WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is working with University of Montana wildlife researchers to test the use of a drone this month to document the presence of moose calves in northeast Washington.
A contractor for the university will fly an “unmanned aerial system” equipped with a video camera during the week of Dec. 11-15 over radio-collared cow moose on public and private lands in Stevens, Pend Oreille and Spokane counties. Researchers from the university’s cooperative wildlife research unit began the study in 2014 in cooperation with WDFW and other partners to learn more about moose populations, movement, reproduction, and survival.
Rich Harris, a WDFW wildlife scientist, said the goal of the drone project is to document the presence of moose calves more safely, more efficiently, and less expensively than is possible with traditional wildlife surveying methods.
The craft will be flown over U.S. Forest Service lands and timberlands owned by Hancock Forest Management, Stimson Lumber Company, and Inland Empire Paper Company. All have given permission for the drone to fly over their lands.
By flying the drone over 35 collared moose cows, researchers expect to be able to document the presence of nearby calves. Harris said the only other ways to conduct such research – through close-up approaches on foot or from a helicopter – are less safe, require more time, and are more expensive than using a drone.
Harris said the drone would be flown only during daylight hours, at a maximum height of 400 feet. It will not be flown over people or buildings.
Harris said the flight schedule was chosen to avoid weekends and most major hunting seasons, which will minimize disturbance to recreationists.
The drone to be used in the test is white, slightly larger than one square foot, and looks like a four-legged helicopter with a rotor blade on each corner. It will be flown when a ground crew is within about 700 feet of a radio-collared cow moose and will record video only of wildlife and their habitat.
Harris said researchers expect the drone will be less stressful to moose than traditional ground monitoring, because moose have no overhead predation threats. If researchers conclude the moose are not substantially disturbed by the drone and calves are successfully documented, drones may be used for other wildlife research in Washington.
A 2016 update on the moose research is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01859/.