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Updated 11:30 AM December 6, 2004




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Spotlight: Moose bone hunter: Making the trek for scientific research

If you've ever been backpacking, you know that it's no easy task. Besides the miles and miles you'll walk each day, you have to carry supplies, including tent, food, water and extra clothing on your back.
Jeff Holden (facing the camera) hunts for moose bones with other volunteers in the Upper Peninsula. They backpack for several days at a time in search of information about the moose-wolf balance. (Below) Moose bones collected by Holden and others help researchers examining wildlife issues. The research has affected public attitudes toward wolves. (Photos courtesy Jeff Holden)

Jeff Holden, who has worked at M-CARE for more than seven years, takes it a step further—he carries moose bones, too.

For the past three years, Holden—M-CARE's market information and statistics manager—has traveled to Isle Royale National Park in the Upper Peninsula to participate in a weeklong study designed to look at the role of predators in controlling prey populations.

He and a group of five to six other volunteers, including trained research assistants, backpack across the island for seven days with aerial photos, maps and compasses. As they hike, they look for and record any dead moose they find on the island. The information the volunteers collect is added to a database on the delicate balance between wolves and moose.

The study is conducted by Rolf Peterson, professor of wildlife ecology at Michigan Technological University. Results of the research have helped turn around public attitudes toward wolves and revolutionize wildlife management policies worldwide, Holden says.

Isle Royale is an independent ecosystem and is the most remote national park in the continental United States. Moose are a main source of food for wolves, and observing the relationship between the two species is easier on Isle Royale than any other place in the world, Holden says.

When Holden and other members of his group stumble across moose bones, they take photos and collect the needed bones, usually the skull and the metatarsus, which corresponds to the ankle bone in humans. Then one or more unlucky members of the group get to add the extra weight to their backpacks.

"It can get really heavy," Holden says. "Normal backpacking gets lighter as you go on, because you're eating the food you're carrying. This is just the opposite because you're collecting bones. Two years ago we also collected antlers for another study, and those were extremely heavy. My pack weighed 65 pounds at the end. Typically you don't want your pack to be more than a third of your body weight."

On a usual day, the group hikes five to six miles off trail looking for evidence of moose remains. "In the spring, typically we find two moose each day because there isn't any ground cover yet," Holden says. "By summer, it's harder to see the ground, so on average, we find one per day."

Holden enjoys the physical labor and is glad that he is able to support the important research. He already has plans in place to make the trip again in August 2005.

"I'm really looking forward to it," he says. "Even though I have to work like a dog, I enjoy it because it's such a unique opportunity to see things I won't see anywhere else, and it's great to get away from everything."

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