Back on the job

(Edmonton) The stewardship of the province’s wildlife is assured another seven years of vigilant research with the reappointment of University of Alberta biologist Mark Boyce to the Alberta Conservation Association.

Since 1999, Boyce has held the ACA chair in Fisheries and Wildlife, which focuses the research of his team of graduate students on Alberta wildlife.

“Using revenues from provincial hunting and fishing licences, the ACA has endowed a fisheries and wildlife chair at the U of A. It’s my role to supervise applied research in that area,” said Boyce.

His specialty is population ecology, which includes the task of managing the delicate balance between Alberta’s resource expansion and resident wildlife.
“We’ve determined that putting roads into the backcountry brings conflict with wolves and grizzly bears. We’ve also started a new study on the impact development has on wolverines,” said Boyce.

Boyce says the state of wildlife in Alberta is relatively healthy. “We have much more extensive wildlife populations than we did 100 years ago for many species.”

In addition to supervising the research of 10 graduate students, Boyce has taken on his own study of Alberta’s moose population.

“Moose are a high-value animal,” said Boyce. “They’re a food staple of many Aboriginal communities; guides and outfitters depend on them for their foreign hunter clients, and wolves need moose, too.”

Boyce and others are looking to new technologies to monitor wide-ranging moose populations because aerial surveillance has become too expensive.

“It would cost about $6 million a year to do enough aerial monitoring for accurate data on their numbers and movements,” said Boyce. He adds the losses can be more than monetary. “More wildlife biologists die on the job in aerial surveys than any other cause,” said Boyce. “Over the course of my career, I’ve known three wildlife biologists who crashed and died in separate accidents.”

Cost, danger and accuracy has prompted the development over the years of new animal-monitoring technologies, and they now include social media.

“We’ve developed an iPhone app for moose hunters that will help us keep tabs on the animals,” Boyce said, explaining that the GPS function in smartphones allows the automated survey to contact hunters when they’re in the moose-hunting area for which they’re licensed. “Just after sundown, the hunter gets a smartphone message asking them how many hours they were in the field and how many moose they saw,” said Boyce. “The ring tone even has a wildlife theme; it’s a recording of a bellowing cow moose in heat.”

As he enters his third term as ACA chair, Boyce says it has been a rewarding experience and a good legacy. “This third term will take me to 2019. By then I’ll be 69 years old and that’s when I plan to retire.”