There’s finally an app for everything. University of Alberta researchers have created an app to track moose populations across the province.
Moose hunters download the Moose Hunter Survey app and record moose sightings while they’re out in the woods. If they forget, a cow moose call notification sound reminds them at the end of the day.
The app provides better and cheaper data than other methods, like aerial surveys from helicopters that can cost $60,000.
Using hunters to spearhead a conservation program may sound counterintuitive, but Mark Boyce, co-creator of the app and professor of ecology at the University of Alberta said, “The fact is that most conservation has been and is driven by the hunting and angling community.”
Only five per cent of Canadians are hunters, according to Statistics Canada. This may be why so many people don’t see the innate connection between hunting and conservation.
“When I was an undergrad in fish and wildlife biology, all of my colleagues were hunters and anglers. That was why you went into the field,” said Boyce. “Gradually it became more and more young people who want to save the world.”
He said the origins of the conservation movement came from hunters in the 19th century. As the population has become more and more urban, hunters have been some of the best-placed people to notice when animal populations dwindle.
“Many, many species have been brought back by conservation programs that have been promoted by and implemented by hunters and hunters pay for it,” said Boyce, pointing to wild turkeys and elk as success stories.
“There certainly are a lot of people in the public who think that, ‘Oh, so-and-so goes out and kills animals and that somehow they’re opposed to conservation,’” said Boyce. “They just don’t understand, I guess.”
Boyce was quite forward-thinking in that when the app was first released in 2012, there were fewer smartphone and app users than there are today. In its first year, the Moose Hunting Survey app had 3,000 logs.
In 2016, it had 16,000.
Every year Alberta’s Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks needs to determine how many hunting tags to issue for each of the province’s 178 Wildlife Management Units (WMU)—the areas Alberta is divided into for things like moose population management.
The app provides more accurate information so the Ministry can make better decisions. For example, if a WMU has a large population, a larger number of tags can be issued there.
“We can then monitor how a population responds to a particular harvest level to see what happens next year,” said Boyce. “And if numbers go up or down, we can adjust the harvest quota accordingly.”
The app is now run by the Alberta Conservation Association, of which Boyce is the endowed chair in fisheries and wildlife. It can be found in the Apple store or on the Moose Hunter Survey website.