One of 30 cow moose recently captured and collared in Game Management Unit 15A and 15B in a joint effort by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.  (Photo by Dan Thompson, Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

One of 30 cow moose recently captured and collared in Game Management Unit 15A and 15B in a joint effort by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo by Dan Thompson, Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

Refuge Notebook: Agencies work together to study Kenai moose

Moose continue to be one of the most valuable species that reside on the Kenai Peninsula. They trigger an emotional response from most folk and can consistently be viewed by residents and visitors at any time of the year. Highly prized by hunters and wildlife watchers, feared by motorists, and often despised by gardeners, moose have sparked enormous interest by wildlife managers and researchers over the years.

For the past several decades, the tool of choice for moose researchers in Alaska has been radio collars and, in recent years, GPS collars. These devices allow researchers to pinpoint an individual moose’s location at just about any time and allow for the in-depth analysis of moose movement over time. There are many challenges related to affixing a collar around the neck of a gigantic wild animal. One can’t simply walk up to a wild moose and strap a collar on it without potentially serious repercussions. Our solution is to use helicopters.

Capturing a moose from the air is a well-coordinated event that can be loosely compared to a well-choreographed episode of “Dancing with the Stars.” Several skilled biologists and pilots are needed to pull it off and the resulting sequence of events is graceful to watch. Once the target moose is identified from a spotter plane, a helicopter swoops in so a biologist can dart the animal with an immobilizing chemical cocktail that will eventually sedate the animal. The spotter plane circles overhead to monitor the drug’s effects and ensure the moose avoids any potentially deadly situations such as creeks or lakes.

Once the drugs take effect and the animal is immobilized, the helicopter returns with a team of biologists to “process” the animal. Typically this involves fitting a radio collar, taking measurements, and collecting blood or fecal samples. An antagonist or “reversal” drug is then administered which counteracts the effects of the immobilizing drugs and the moose is sent on her merry way. Then it is on to the next subject.

During this past month, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, in cooperation with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, successfully captured 30 moose using these methods in Game Management Units 15A and 15B. The goals of the two agencies were the same, to capture a specified number of moose and fit them with GPS collars, but how we will use the data differs.

ADF&G will use the GPS data in two ongoing moose studies. The purpose of the first study is to collect and analyze baseline data on seasonal body condition, productivity, and movements of moose in response to intensive management in GMU 15A. The purpose of the second ADF&G study is to evaluate how moose respond, both physiologically and behaviorally, to daily and seasonal fluctuations in environmental temperatures. Biologists will evaluate how wild moose select habitat based on thermoregulatory costs in different successional stages of the boreal forest, one in recently-burned areas and the other in mid- to late-seral stages. These data will ultimately allow managers to identify areas that can provide both thermal relief and adequate forage for moose during seasonally warm temperatures when planning habitat improvements for these populations.

At the Kenai Refuge, we’ve grown increasingly interested in recent years about how moose may be using residential areas on the central peninsula. We all see moose feeding along our roads during winter and calving in our neighborhoods in the spring. Much like moose in Anchorage, there is anecdotal evidence that some moose may spend most if not all of their life cycle within urban areas. On the other hand, we know that some moose may use residential areas as relatively safe places to spend their winters or drop their calves, but only seasonally, choosing to spend most of their life cycle on the Refuge. So we will use the GPS collar data to assess moose behavior, movement, and habitat use along the urban interface.

In addition, several moose were collared close to the Sterling Highway, east of Sterling, within the Refuge. We are interested in assessing moose movements in advance of road improvements that are scheduled to begin this summer on the 22-mile section of the highway that runs from Sterling to Jim’s Landing (MP 58-79). Collecting pre-construction data will allow us to better evaluate the post-construction success of culverts, fencing and a bridge being built to guide and facilitate wildlife crossing the Sterling Highway.

The collaborative nature of this study allows Federal and State biologists to reduce the costs of research while sharing data. And just maybe the bright orange collars hanging around the necks of some Kenai moose will make them a bit more visible and prevent a vehicle collision or two.


Nathan Olson is the wildlife biologist-pilot at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Find more about the Refuge at or

More in Life

Sierra Ferrell performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Salmonfest returns Aug. 2-4 for ‘musically infused family reunion’

The three-day event will feature art, festivities and an array of performers

Gold Peak play the opening set of the Seventh Annual Rock’N the Ranch at the Rusty Ravin on Friday, July 7, 2023, at Rusty Ravin Plant Ranch in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Gold Peak play the opening set of the Seventh Annual Rock’N the Ranch at the Rusty Ravin on Friday, July 7, 2023, at Rusty Ravin Plant Ranch in Kenai. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Music fest returns to RustyRavin

The annual nonprofit music festival is a fundraiser for Nuk’it’un, a transitional home for men

Lisa Parker, vice mayor of Soldotna, celebrates after throwing the ceremonial first pitch before a game between the Peninsula Oilers and the Mat-Su Miners on Tuesday, July 4, 2023, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
King of the River food drive extended, Kenai takes lead

The winning city’s mayor will throw the opening pitch at a Peninsula Oilers game

Minister’s Message: The gift of lament

We don’t always know what to do in those difficult parts of life.

Chickpea lentil and spinach curry is served with rice and yogurt. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Finding comfort in memories

I believe that houses hold memories, and I hope the memory of our time there comforts it during its final, painful days.

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: Good old summertime

The lupines are crazy this year, as were the dandelions.

This advertisement for the Hilltop Bar and Café, the successor to the Circus Bar, appeared in 1962. The names under “Beer and Booze” refer to co-owners Swede Foss and Steve Henry King. (Advertisement contributed by Jim Taylor)
A violent season — Part 5

Bush did not deny killing Jack Griffiths in October 1961, but he claimed to have had no choice in order to protect himself.

Getting creative with camping

Making healthy, diverse meals while outdoors takes some planning

Most Read