The use of drones to survey moose populations

Sen. Click Bishop

Feb. 11, 2014

The University of Alaska Fairbanks, which has an interesting drone development program, has recently been selected by the Federal Aviation Administration as one of six test sites established around the country to help integrate “drones” into U.S. airspace.  The expansion, utilization and more importantly, the non-military use of drones for everyday applications, is extremely exciting.

Practical uses for drones could offer the public, state and federal governments a unique tool in advancing their management efforts of, for example, fish and wildlife.

A couple of years ago, when a fuel barge was being brought through the sea ice into Nome, a UAF team with a drone helped to guide the vessel into port.

Then, this fall, I heard about an ingenious moose hunter who was canoeing on one of our Interior rivers, operating a drone helicopter with a computer, looking for moose just beyond the tree line (whether this could be considered “same day airborne” or not is a debate for another day).

These are just examples of the innovative and unique opportunities being offered with the civilian and public use of this exciting technology.

With this in mind, I have taken the initiative to seek practical applications of drones through a collaboration between the UAF and ADFG for the benefit of fish and game management.

The effective management of the State’s natural resources is dependent upon the most accurate numbers we can provide. Specifically, the effective management of moose, caribou, fish and other renewable natural resources is dependent upon the collection of accurate and comprehensive population estimates and makeup.

Historically burdensome, the collection of population data on any number of species is costly, time consuming and fraught with uncertainty and may or may not provide accurate information. For a number of reasons, I am not convinced that using aircraft and spotters is the best way to attain an accurate count of moose. Moose move around a lot. Weather hampers safe flying. We are depending on the ability of the spotters to visually identify each animal.

Applications currently available will provide enhanced thermal imaging, the ability to further define vegetation for density determinations, and the ability to return to the exact same location for detailed historical comparisons.

It is my hope that the collaboration of UAF and the ADFG will provide the State with new and enhanced data collection efforts that are innovative, more accurate and less expensive than current practices. It’s time for Alaska to utilize all the new and fascinating technology available to us, in order to better manage our still abundant natural resources.

I have discussed this possible collaboration in a meeting with the department the other day and am convinced it can be a solution to getting good data.

With ever-increasing pressure on our moose and caribou populations, from natural predation to personal use, it is imperative that we have good data backing up the allocation decisions of the Board of Game and the department. With that in mind, I will be encouraging the use of drones.

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