How Drones Are Helping Washington’s Moose

Through the trees, it’s hard to see the moose wandering in the woods. But from a bird’s eye view? You can see a little brown splotch — with antlers. Researchers found drones — that sound like a swarm of bees — don’t scare the moose.

Before this technology, researchers had to trek through dense forests to count moose — or fly in helicopters.

Hiking in and trying to get a glimpse of a mother moose and her calf is challenging. It’s also stressful to the animals. Wolves and other predators chase them on the ground.

“When we walk in on a moose, and it hears us coming, it’s gone. It’s in the next valley,” Goerz said. “It’ll move hundreds of meters away, if not farther, to get away from us.”

The researchers found drones — that sound like a swarm of bees — don’t scare the moose.

“I would love to see us be able to use them for the kinds of survey flights that we typically do with helicopters now,” Harris said. “I don’t anticipate that happening for a few years at least. … We can only go at the speed that state and federal regulatory bodies permit us to go.” But using drones instead of helicopters could be safer for people, less expensive for the agency, and could create less stress for wildlife below, Harris said.

From the sky this month, the researchers saw a radio-collared female moose with her baby moving across the hillside. Later, the drone allowed them to spot five bulls; with their eyes the researchers only saw one. “It just goes to show that we don’t see everything,” Goerz said. “When we think we know what’s going on, we only have a ground perspective. Once we put that drone into the air, we realized we weren’t seeing everything.”

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