Biologists say an ambitious state survey of Anchorage's moose population hinges on public participation.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game wants the public's help counting the city's moose by texting, calling or going online with sightings from Friday through Sunday.
The moose cow bedded down next to the basement window? The calf licking the pickup next to the garage? Roving teams of biologists can't always spot them. But the public can.
A two-day pilot survey last year garnered more than 800 reports. Biologists are hoping for more this year.
"We really need the public involvement. They're going to make or break this study," said Dave Battle, Fish and Game's management biologist in Anchorage. "Without them, we're going to have a hard time getting the moose we need to find."
The agency doesn't know just how many moose are found in the Anchorage bowl.
The boots-on-the-ground approach is essential in the municipality, where controlled airspace prohibits biologists from using planes to spot moose, Battle said.
With every moose sighting this weekend, dispatchers will send one of eight teams of biologists armed with iPads and dart guns to the report location. Ideally a dart — tipped with a point about the size of a pencil eraser — will gather enough skin for a DNA sample before falling to the ground.
This year's study will be the first full-scale application of the techniques tested last year that combined citizen moose reports with an innovative counting method.
The new method to estimate Anchorage's moose population hinges on using DNA to identify cow-calf pairs. If it works, it could replace collaring moose as a way to count them and provide more genetic information, biologists say.
The department also learned last year that the "biopsy darts" used to collect DNA don't appear to bother the moose, according to Sean Farley, a research biologist on the project.
The pilot study didn't provide an immediate update on moose numbers, but together with this year's count, it will give researchers an accurate figure, Battle said.
"The Anchorage Bowl holds a good proportion of our habitat, particularly winter habitat, for moose," he said. "So it's always been a big black box for us."
The moose survey is funded by federal taxes on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment, as well as state hunting license and tag fees.
Reports should include the number of moose observed, time of the sighting and location of the moose. The department warns citizens to avoid approaching moose or ADFG survey teams collecting DNA. The teams will be wearing flare-orange vests and using dart projectors that look like long guns or hunting rifles.
There are three ways to report an Anchorage moose:
– Send a text to 907-782-5051
– Call 907-267-2530
– Go online at adfg.alaska.gov