After receiving feedback on the earlier moose posts (you can find the first one here and the second here) MNA was inspired to look up more information on the moose relocation that took place in the 1980s. A story on the lift was written in the March/April 1985 issue of the Michigan Natural Resources Magazine, a publication of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
If you happened to be near Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada on a cold winter night way back in January of 1985 you might have seen something a little strange: a moose dangling under a helicopter.
Over the course of two weeks, 29 moose were successfully located, captured, transported and released by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Canadian specialists. The moose were released in the Upper Peninsula in an effort to increase the existing population. Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Environment photographer David Kenyon had only been working full time for the DNR for a year when he went on this assignment.
“This was a very exciting assignment for me,” Kenyon said. “I’ve not had such excitement since, but all in all it’s been a very satisfying career with the Moose Lift being what I consider the highlight.”
The question that has to be answered though, is how do you transport 29 half-ton animals in the middle of winter all the way from Canada to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula? The answer involves a lot of maneuvering in the cold by a brave crew and some very capable helicopter pilots.
Multiple helicopters were involved. The first was called the “chase helicopter.” It would locate a moose in an easy-to-access location, such as a frozen lake and Michigan DNR wildlife veterinarian Dr. Steve Schmitt would tranquilize the animal with a narcotic from the air. The first moose was found within eight minutes of the first flight out.
The next helicopter, known as the “lift helicopter,” would then arrive with the sling crew. The sling crew had one of the most difficult jobs – to fasten a harness around the moose. Three people had to arrange the groggy moose into a specially designed harness that would allow the helicopter to carry the animal back to the base camp. The crew worked in bitter cold temperatures and sometimes had to take off their gloves to move the harness into place. The helicopter had to hover a few feet from the ground so the crew could attach the harness to a cable. The moose were slowly lifted off the ice while the crew double-checked the harnesses. All of this had to be done while the helicopter whirled snow and ice around in a blinding wind. Some of the moose had to be flown as far as 14 miles to get back to the base camp.
At base camp each moose was slowly lowered to the ground while another crew tucked the awkward animal’s limbs into a natural lounging position. With a complicated maneuver of the helicopter, the crew disconnected the harness from the machine. Before moving the animal into the transportation trucks, health checks were completed. The moose were checked for serious diseases and parasites. Their body temperature and tooth wear were also checked and measurements were taken. All the animals were fitted with a radio color to help the DNR track the movements in the future.
After the moose were thoroughly examined, they were placed in specifically designed shipping crates that would carry the moose all the way to Michigan. The crates were hauled to each moose via a sled made of timber and rope and a mobile crane lifted each moose into the crate. The harness was removed from beneath the animals and they were given a drug to reverse the effect of the narcotic. After the drug was given, the crate’s top and doors were bolted into place.
The crates were weighed and placed on a truck that drove to an isolated area to help keep the moose calm while more moose were tracked down. One day of working could result in four captured moose ready to make the trip to the U.P. The moose took a 600-mile truck ride to Michigan, travelling overnight to reduce the stress on the animals. Travel was often hindered by snowy conditions and sometimes took up to 24 hours. The trucks stopped every two hours to make sure the moose weren’t lying down for too long, causing circulatory nerve damage to their legs.
The moose were released at a site north of Lake Michigamme in Marquette County. The crates were lifted out of the trucks and the moose and radio collars were checked. After a last health check, the moose were set free in their new home. The release site is near a few MNA Sanctuaries, including Braastad and Myrtle Justeson Memorial sanctuaries. Also nearby are Baraga Old Growth and Lightfoot Bay sanctuaries.