Josh Lerat uses telemetric equipment to track a moose collar hidden in the bushes on the Cowesses First Nation. (Photo by NCC)

Josh Lerat uses telemetric equipment to track a moose collar hidden in the bushes on the Cowesses First Nation. (Photo by NCC)

Students learn the importance of tracking moose

The Farmland Moose Project is trying to figure out why moose are living in an area with only one per cent forest coverage

Aidan Thompson (left) and Bevanne Cote (right) use telemetric equipment to track a hidden moose collar. (Photo by NCC)

Aidan Thompson (left) and Bevanne Cote (right) use telemetric equipment to track a hidden moose collar. (Photo by NCC)

Josh Lerat, Bevanne Cote and the rest of their high school class spent an afternoon outside trying to hear the sound of a moose collar. It was part of the Nature Conservancy of Canada's (NCC's) and Treaty 4 Education Alliance’s Learning the Land project, which incorporated traditional Indigenous knowledge with western science. The group visited Cowessess First Nation to learn about moose. They were trying to figure out why moose are living around Saskatchewan farmland, instead of where they traditionally live near tree cover.

“I’d like to learn more about why they are coming here,” Josh said. “Or why they’re leaving the forest to come down to the prairies.”

The Farmland Moose Project was started by NCC board member and University of Saskatchewan assistant professor Ryan Brook. The team is trying to understand the new phenomenon of moose showing up in Saskatchewan’s farmland. Moose are regularly being seen between Saskatoon and Regina, an area that has less than one per cent forest coverage.

Moose are spotted on Saskatchewan farmland. (Photo by Raea Gooding)

Moose are spotted on Saskatchewan farmland. (Photo by Raea Gooding)

To track the moose, the research team places radio collars on the animals and uses telemetric equipment to track them, and that’s what Josh and Bevanne got to try out.

Radio collars were hidden on a hill next to their school, and the student teams tried their best to follow the frequency of the collars to locate them in the bushes.

“It was actually a lot more fun than I thought it was going to be,” Josh admitted. The telemetric equipment proved to be more difficult to use than it looked, and after a lot of running up and down the hill, students also used a GPS to locate the collars.

Shyla Delorme (left) and Bevanne Cote (right) show off the moose collar they found in the bushes. (Photo by NCC)

Shyla Delorme (left) and Bevanne Cote (right) show off the moose collar they found in the bushes. (Photo by NCC)

Josh remembers what he was told about the significance of the moose to indigenous people. “They were really similar to buffalo, I guess, for other communities that didn't have buffalo around, but would still have to hunt,” he said. The hides would be used for clothing and shelter, the stomach and bladder were used to hold liquids, and the bones were used for knives.

Inspired to learn more

Josh, Bevanne and the other students see moose on Cowessess frequently, sometimes in the valley and sometimes crossing the highway. During the day while working with Learning the Land, they thought harder about why that is. Moose are known to be in forested areas. Watching them in farmland, they usually stick close to wetlands to stay cool. That left Bevanne wondering about the ones near her.

“Why are they coming here to dry land, to such a dry place, when they could be up there eating all they really want,” she wondered.

These issues are still being studied by the research team. But in the meantime, questions and curiosity from the students are what the research team is hoping for.

“Getting the next generation that’s kind of taking the reigns of our world is super important,” said Raea Gooding, a researcher with the Farmland Moose Project, and the person teaching the students at Cowessess about the project. “We want to check in and see if people are still valuing this wildlife and these wild systems. We need a new wave of people who are going to fight that fight for us going forward.”

The students agreed. After an afternoon of hands-on learning, many said they had more questions that they would research on their own.

“It kind of inspired me to learn more,” Josh said.

“I definitely think that we’re in an interesting environment right now, where a lot of our wildlife is in trouble,” Raea said. “And we need people to be reminded that this is something that we really need to protect.”

Learning the Land is supported by Environment and Climate Change Canada Aboriginal Fund for Species at Risk, and the Province of Saskatchewan’s First Nations Community Engagement Project Fund.

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