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Moose mostly elusive, DNR says
Crew finds creatures difficult to catch in wooded area


The densely wooded northern Minnesota terrain is helping keep moose on the loose.

A helicopter crew trying to net moose from the air about 37 miles north of Two Harbors was still having difficulty capturing animals on Tuesday, said Mark Lenarz, a research biologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The crew from Helicopter Capture Services is trying to net moose from the air so that biologists can fit the animals with radio collars for a five-year study. The $488,000 study will help monitor moose movements and mortality.

The crew captured and put radio collars on four moose on Monday, the first day of the project. By midday Tuesday, two more moose had been fitted with the radio-transmitter collars. Originally, biologists with the state, three northern Chippewa bands and the U.S. Geological Survey had hoped to trap 60 moose in five days.

The problem is that the helicopter crew cannot find good places to capture the moose.

"They can't find large enough open areas to shoot the net on them,'' Lenarz said. "Unless things get better (Tuesday afternoon), we'll be shifting our base of operations to the... Dumbell Lake area (near Isabella) where there are a lot more lakes and frozen marshes.''

The crew would then use the helicopter to drive the moose onto lakes or marshes for netting, Lenarz said.

Originally, the plan was for the three-person helicopter crew to net the moose, transfer them to a sling and fly them to a site near a road where a team of biologists could affix the collars and take biological samples. But because progress has been slow, the helicopter crew has been given permission to affix the collars and do some sampling where the moose is netted, Lenarz said.

"It depends on the individual situation,'' Lenarz said. "If they've had a difficult time capturing the animal, then they may simply slap a collar on it and maybe take a blood sample. But most important is to get the radio collar on.''

One moose, a mature bull, died Monday morning because of the stress of being netted and transported. On Tuesday, a cow moose that proved difficult to net was simply let go, Lenarz said.

"It would have stressed her too much to put a collar on,'' he said.

Although the helicopter crew members are not biologists, they routinely take biological samples and put radio collars on animals, Lenarz said. He said the data collection that he and other biologists wanted to do is not mandatory for the effectiveness of the five-year study.

"All the data we're collecting here (near the road site) is optional,'' Lenarz said. "We'd certainly like to collect the data because it would give us information we could develop into management tools. But the first priority is human safety, and the second priority is the animals' safety.''

Blood samples taken from the animals indicate whether a cow is pregnant and also can be used to determine whether the moose is suffering from brainworm, a potentially fatal disease that moose can contract from white-tailed deer. Fecal samples also can be used to determine whether a cow is carrying a calf, Lenarz said.

Various measurements of the moose's body indicate whether the animal is a yearling or an adult and what kind of condition it's in.

Depending on how much time helicopter crew members spend with a moose, they could get all of that data in addition to fitting it with a radio collar.

Biologists have contracted with the helicopter crew from Marysvale, Utah, for five days, Lenarz said.

"It's looking unlikely that we'll have 60 moose by Friday,'' Lenarz said. "We'll just go for the maximum number of moose we can get.''

The original plan called for the helicopter team to return next winter to put collars on more moose to replace animals that had died during the year.

"Perhaps then we can fill in the remainder of our sample and bring the total up to 60,'' Lenarz said.

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