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Moose in Government Crosshairs

Lia Laskaris Parks Canada Leave a Comment

This is the second in a series of posts about the moose cull in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

By Rose Courage, Guest Blogger, resident of Cape Breton, NS

At what point did Parks Canada develop such a callous disregard for the lives of living creatures? Moose, cormorants, deer, elk, coyote, wolves, and other creatures have all been in the crosshairs of Parks Canada management at various times.

Somehow this is not surprising to me. After all, at least 138 moose (not counting unborn fetuses) have been killed by hunters on North Mountain in Cape Breton Highlands National Park since 2015. Parks Canada management state it is because moose are determined to be ‘hyperabundant’, after more than 15 years of study. However, in my research thus far I have been unable to find compelling data that would prove moose are ‘hyperabundant’ (a term that has no basis in science to begin with) and are singularly destroying the boreal forest. What I have found instead is problematic data and inconsistencies.

Hyperabundant Moose?

Parks Canada has consistently stated that there are around 1,800 moose in the Park. They say this number is the result of a survey which took place in March 2015, yet it appears in documentation well before 2014.

After winters with huge snowfalls on North Mountain, with unknown deaths and births, and 138 plus moose killed in culls thus far, the number is still stated as 1,800. Is that seemingly ‘magic’ number of about 1,800 continually used because it can mathematically make the moose population ‘hyperabundant’ in the Park?

If the population can remain steady at around 1800-2000 individuals, then surely the environment can support this number. ‘Hyperabundance’ is typically defined as “A species whose population has grown to the point where it exceeds the capacity of the landscape to provide enough suitable habitat.” It seems to me that moose have plenty of suitable habitat in the Park. And the majority of moose that they kill show good body condition, which is atypical for individuals in a ‘hyperabundant’ population.

Access to Information (ATIP) research turned up interesting information regarding moose population numbers in the Park:

  • The population has been stated as around 1800 as far back as before 2014.
  • When trying to justify the population in a “Hyperabundant Management Plan”, the number used was “~ 2500” (around 2500), with a target population of “<1000” (less than 1000).
  • Following the cull in 2017, we were told that there are about 2,000 moose in the National Park.

It is notable that the survey done in March 2015 for the Cape Breton highlands ecosystem, including the National Park, in association with Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, left much to be desired in the accuracy and trustworthiness of its numbers. Some quoted comments in emails from Parks Canada with regard to survey data results were:

  • “We are having a bit of problems with our new SCF method……we are getting lower numbers of moose observed overall…” (SCF appears to mean sighting correction factor)
  • Regarding moose estimates, old school, it was stated “I played around a little bit.”
  • “Confusing to change to many things at once.”
  • “The more I look in to it, the more troubling the intensive data seem. Almost half the data are problematic…”

How can anyone have faith in the 2015 survey numbers, or any of the population numbers for that matter?

In March of this year, a survey of the Cape Breton highlands ecosystem was completed, with NS Dept of Lands and Forests participating as well as UINR, the Mi’kmaw organization which has been participating in the moose culls in the National Park. If, or when, the survey results are released to the public I doubt that they will show a good outcome for the moose in the Park. The reason I feel this is because for the past years there have been quiet discussions going on about Park-wide ‘hyper moose management’ being a possibility for the future.

Since before 2014, the public has been told by the authors of the “Hyperabundant Moose Management Plan for North Mountain” that moose density in the Park is 1.5 to 2 moose per square kilometer and this makes it ‘hyperabundant’. Yet, in Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland, where moose are not native and have been culled, they state that a moose density of about 2 moose per sq km would allow their forest to regenerate. Why then is that number considered ‘hyperabundant’ in the CB Highlands National Park?

Flawed Data

The authors of the “Hyperabundant Moose Management Plan for North Mountain” stated there was little evidence to suggest moose would move from a high density to a low density area. This was the basis of the justification for their ‘experiment’ to kill as many moose as possible in the North Mountain study area, so that certain trees could grow.

However, there is nothing preventing moose in a high density environment from moving into an area where there are fewer moose. In fact, one of the authors stated in a 2016 newspaper article that ” moose are always on the move.”

It is obvious that moose moved into the area after 37 moose were killed in the first cull, 50 in the next, 35 in the next, and 16 in the last cull. Each time the cull ended and a survey of the area showed significant depletion, more moose entered the study area from outside Park boundaries, and they will continue to do so year after year.

It would be understandable for hunting guides operating small businesses outside of Park boundaries to be concerned about their livelihoods. In a letter by the NS Federation of Anglers and Hunters, the Parks Canada claim about movement of moose was strongly disputed. They also noted that “This science and plan are flawed and just as important is the fact it is all being done without proper consultation with the people of Nova Scotia.”

The letter continues, “Today, due to other circumstances like weather, dwindling food within the study area and winter-kill, the number of moose has been naturally reduced so we don’t see a need for a cull.”

Inconsistencies

It is not unusual to see contrary opinions coming from Parks Canada staff.

For instance, with regard to ‘predation’, the Park doesn’t acknowledge what NS Dept of Natural Resources, Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park, and they themselves appear to know: the fact that black bears and coyotes are predators of moose.

  • According to the NS website, black bear prey on calves and could also attack old or injured moose. It also suggests coyotes could play a role in moose calf predation.
  • In an article discussing a study of coyotes and moose, it states that coyotes are capable of hunting down and killing adult moose.
  • In a Parks Canada Hyperabundant Management Plan, “… reduced numbers of important prey items may have impacts on coyote feeding behaviors – possibly making them more dependent on human food and moose for survival.”

Black bears and coyotes are both listed in the Basic Impact Analysis for North Mountain as species which occur there. Yet, the public are repeatedly told that there is “no predation”. Perhaps by stating ‘no predation’, Parks staff can justify their moose density target of only .5 moose per square km in the whole National Park.

Fact or Fiction?

With regard to information being shared with the general public by Parks Canada and its partners through the Hyperabundant Moose Management Plan and the media, where does fabrication end and truth begin?

This whole situation reminds me of the TV advertisement which uses an apple to represent a fact, saying that people can tell us over and over that it’s a banana, but the fact remains that it is an apple! We are repeatedly told the harvest is ‘humane and respectful’ but how can it be with helicopters used in as much as 100% of the moose kills? We are repeatedly told that there are no predators, but we know that there are black bear and coyotes, and both are capable of killing moose. We are repeatedly given population numbers that make the moose ‘hyperabundant’ but the numbers and their origins are far from clear.

When all is said and done, Parks Canada tells us what they would have us believe and they repeat it over and over again, but that doesn’t make what they tell us a FACT.

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