In those days, things slowed down in January and February. That was the time when you went inside and finished reports, labeled and filed slides (who remembers slides now that images are all digital?), gave presentations, manned exhibits at sports shows, and made work plans for the next field season.
It is not like that anymore. Thank heavens!
Fish and Wildlife data collection for the season setting process is in full swing in the winter. Some of the data collection work done by Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) can be best accomplished with snow on the ground. With snow cover, animals are more visible and somewhat concentrated for aerial population surveys. Winter has become as significant a field season as the summer field season.
IDFG Wildlife Biologists will soon be working with a private helicopter contractor in the field capturing and collaring elk. The operation will begin January 19th in the Coeur d'Alene River drainage and the St Joe River drainage. Cow and calf elk are being fitted with radio collars to monitor their survival rates and movements.
The plan is to collar and follow about 100 elk so that IDFG can monitor habitat use, seasonal movements, and survival rates. In this study, cow and calf elk are being captured with either nets or tranquilizer darts depending upon the terrain and density of the forest canopy.
Once an animal is restrained or under anesthesia, a handler fits the animal with a GPS collar, collects blood and fecal samples (for disease and pregnancy surveillance), and estimates each animal's age. The elk is then released at the capture site just a few minutes later.
The capture operation will take several days of good flying weather. So if you see a helicopter circling in the skies at a low elevation in the Coeur d'Alene drainage or the St Joe over the next few weeks, it is likely part of this study.
The GPS collars that are attached will record the animal's location once per day. Collars will function for several years. The location, time, and other pertinent data are transmitted to a satellite and then to biologists as a weekly email.
Prior to the development of GPS collars, biologists had to use an antenna in hand or on a plane to determine an animal's location. Most locations were usually midday, during weather that allowed safe flights and good visibility. Now, locations are taken regardless of weather, giving a much better picture of habitat uses and requirements.
A unique signal is produced if the collar is stationary for 6 hours, tipping biologists off that there may be an elk mortality. In that event, the collar can be located as soon as possible and biologists can often (but not always) determine the cause of death.
New technology, such as the use of GPS collars, has changed wildlife management over time. New equipment and techniques have enabled better data collection and a better understanding of what is actually happening outside in all kinds of weather in both daylight and dark...all year long.