Air search for moose, possibly squirrel

BARAGA — The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) Natural Resource Department (NRD) will participate in aerial winter wildlife surveys of the L’Anse Reservation.

Wildlife biologist Erin Johnston said the idea stems from a collaboration with tribes in Minnesota.

The purpose of the surveys is to meet the objectives of the NRD Wildlife Stewardship plan, which includes monitoring wildlife populations, partnering to conduct research and aligning methodologies to better collaborate on assessments of species of greatest need or concern.

“It’s important for the tribe to understand and to be a part of accessing wildlife populations on the reservation,” said Johnston.

These will be the first aerial surveys the NRD has conducted. The staff usually conducts track surveys in which it searches at ground levels to find tracks of animals and wildlife during winter.

The surveys are meant to increase the NRD’s knowledge about the habitat and wildlife populations near the reservation. Although the staff plan to count a number of animal species, they want to focus on moose.

“Our main focus is to understand potential use of moose in winter,” said Johnston.

The focus on moose is due to a species of moose being petitioned to be listed under the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016.

The NRD is hoping to discover where the moose are during the winter and how they are utilizing the land.

While the focus of the survey is moose, the L’Anse Reservation is not within core (high density) moose range, although some have been detected throughout the year.

The aerial surveys are said to take place over the next two winters, with the first beginning in late February or early March, depending on the helicopter company’s schedule said Johnston.

Flights will be assisted by the staff from Grand Portage Band and Hells Canyon Helicopters.

The use of a helicopter will allow observers to note signs of other wildlife species including deer, wolves and beaver.

“We’re hoping to look at use by wolf packs and deer and to see where they congregate,” said Johnston.