By Bob Brown

It should be no surprise that technology has finally caught up with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

In a recent news release, the department announced it was working with University of Montana wildlife researchers to test the use of a drone to document the presence of moose calves in northwest Washington. A contractor for the university will fly an “unmanned aerial system” equipped with a video camera this month over radio-collared cow moose on public and private land 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, movements and survival.

Rich Harris, a WDFW wildlife scientist, said the goal of the project is to document the presence of moose calves more safely, more efficiently and less expensively than is possible with traditional wildlife surveying methods. By flying the drone over moose cows, researchers expect to be able to document the presence of nearby calves.

Harris said the only other ways to conduct such research – on foot or from a helicopter – are less safe, require more time, and are more expensive than using a drone. Also, the drone will be flown only during daylight hours at a maximum height of 400 feet and will not be flown over people or buildings. The flight schedule was chosen to avoid weekends and most major hunting seasons, which will minimize disturbance to people.

The drone to be used 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 of wildlife and their habitat. Researchers expect the drone to be less stressful to the moose than traditional ground monitoring because moose have no overhead depredation threats. If researchers conclude the moose aren't substantially disturbed by the drone and calves are successfully documented, drones may be used for other wildlife research in Washington.

 

• WDFW is again delaying the opening of the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in coastal waters until Dec. 31 to allow time for crab along the west coast to become meatier.

The decision was made in coordination with shellfish manager from Oregon and California, where commercial Dungeness fisheries will also remain closed. While recent test results indicate Washington coastal crab have met the minimum meat recovery level, crab in sections of Oregon and northern California coasts haven't. Recent tests also showed Washington crabs remain well below the public action level for domoic acid produced by certain types of marine algae. Crab in some coastal areas of Oregon and California haven't met current health standards.

Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager, said, “Our Oregon and California counterparts will take another look at both crab meat and toxin levels to determine which of those areas can open Dec. 31.”

One of Washington’s most lucrative fisheries, the on-tribal commercial crab fishery, was valued at $52 million during the 2016-17 season. Recreational crabbing remains open in Washington coastal waters and in several areas of Puget Sound. Information about those fisheries can be found on the department’s website.

 

Bob Brown can be contacted at “robertb1285@centurylink.net.