Letter to the Editor: Questioning Moose Cull Math

I have always loved our CB Highlands National Park (CBHNP) and much of what is done there is cause for celebration. Park visitor numbers are up, new ideas are being tested and found to be positive and steps are being taken to try to bring back the boreal forest—at a faster rate than nature does on its own.

I just can’t agree with the killing of moose in our national park.

Canadian moose. (Source: CBC)

Canadian moose. (Source: CBC)

After reading the CB Post article on Dec. 8th [print edition] about the end of this year’s moose harvest, I caught myself shaking my head in disbelief that the CB Highlands National Park can still call a harvest “humane and respectful’ when using a helicopter in 88% of the kills (2016 harvest survey results). Thus far, 122 moose have been killed — 37 in 2017; 50 in 2016; 35 in 2017.

Another cause for disbelief is the fact that CBHNP doesn’t acknowledge what Gros Morne National Park ecologists, the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, and they themselves appear to know: that black bears, and possibly coyotes, are predators of moose.

  • According to the Province of Nova Scotia website: “In Nova Scotia, the Black Bear is the only known predator of moose. Black bear prey mainly on calves, but could attack old or injured moose as well…It has been suggested that coyotes may also play a role in moose calf predation.”
  • A study published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology, according to a CBC report in 2013, found, that:  “…Coyotes may not have as fearsome a reputation as wolves, but a new study shows they are sometimes just as capable of hunting down and killing adult moose.”
  • Black bears and coyotes exist in the CBHNP, and both are capable of killing moose. They are both listed in the Basic Impact Analysis for North Mountain as species which occur there. Yet, for some strange reason, the Parks Canada (PC) conservation officer quoted in the Dec. 8th Post article doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge this, because we are repeatedly told that there is “no predation.” Perhaps by stating there is “no predation,” CBHNP can justify their target of only 0.5 moose per square kilometer in the national park.

The Parks Canada story line gets stranger still: in the Dec. 8th article, it seems that harsh winters can negatively affect moose numbers because the PC conservation officer states “with no predation, except for the highland’s harsh winters…” However, in the Post on Nov. 7th [print edition], the same individual stated that “…even the winter doesn’t bother them much—remember, they are a northern animal and are accustomed to winter conditions” So, which are we to believe?

 

Problematic data

Another head-shaking moment for me in the Dec. 8th Post article was when I saw the moose population numbers now being used: “close to 5,000 in Cape Breton with close to 40 percent of those found in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.” That would now mean about 2,000 moose there.

My Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (ATIP) research turned up interesting information regarding moose population numbers in the CBHNP. The population had been stated as 1,800 as far back as 2011. Then, when trying to justify the population in a Hyperabundant Moose Management Plan, the number used was “~2500” (around 2,500), with a target population of “<1000” (less than 1,000).

Phase 1 of the plan states “This plan will only remove 3% of the total moose numbers (~2500)…” That has already been proved wrong because about 122 moose (not counting unborn fetuses) have been killed so far. The Dec. 8th Post article says there are now about 2,000 moose in the national park. So, what can we believe? It seems that numbers can be made to appear however people want them to appear. For instance, the latest aerial survey information I could find for the national park included the CB highlands, and was done in March 2015 by CBHNP, with the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources (NSDNR). In the six months it took to share those numbers with DNR, there were discussions within CBHNP about the survey numbers. Some quoted comments 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 [sic] many things at once.”
  • “The more I look in to [sic] it, the more troubling the intensive data seem. Almost half the data are problematic…”
  • “I adjusted the numbers in all sections that referred to the aerial survey results. The new numbers are the latest we came up with…”
  • “…we tested a different sighting correction factor this year and also did some work on improving the analysis. This has changed how we might report on the results in the future…

How can anyone have faith in the 2015 survey numbers?

 

Hyperabundant?

The “preliminary results” of the survey finally sent to DNR after six months were an “estimated 4775 +/- 1200 for the greater highlands ecosystem and 1750 +/- 500 for CBHNP.” Depending on how something is to be perceived, the variance could be added or subtracted. It seems that PC has decided to cite the numbers so that they show a hyperabundance of moose in the CBHNP at 1,800 (or 2,000 as was reported in the Dec. 8th Post article), and as a higher (5,000 according to the article), rather than a lower, number in the CB highlands. However, if one were to instead subtract the variance, there might be no hyperabundance. It appears easy to use data to give a certain perception.

Source: Parks Canada

Source: Parks Canada

Perhaps CBHNP are laying the groundwork for a park-wide plan to destroy moose. It is repeatedly noted in the ATIP documents I received that the study could inform a bigger moose reduction throughout the national park. CBHNP often says that there should be moose density of 0.5 moose per square kilometer—with park size about 948 square kms, that could be as few as about 474 moose in the national park! Good luck to any park visitor hoping to see a moose then!

This whole situation reminds me of the TV advertisement about the apple—people can tell us over and over that it’s a banana, they can shout at us to distraction 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? We are repeatedly told that there are no predators, but we know that there are black bear and coyotes, and that 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 tell 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.

As a final note: there may be moose sightings near Skyline Trail (per photo and caption in CB Post 2 January 2018) where there is no cull, but moose are few and far between on North Mountain.

Rose Courage
Sydney

 

 

 

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