CBHNP Moose Cull: What Next?

I’m writing today about what Parks Canada has said about the moose cull on North Mountain in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park (CBHNP) and what it hasn’t said.

The cull, we are told, is intended to preserve the park’s endangered boreal forest, which suffered severe damage from the spruce budworm some 30 years ago and has been unable to recover because of an overabundance of moose eating the young trees. The cull (or “harvest”) is one of three methods being tested, the other two involving fencing off a control plot on French Mountain and tree-planting. I have been following the project closely since the first moose cull in 2015 and, as I have noted before, the agency has stated on record that this project “will help inform a future park-wide comprehensive moose hyperabundance management exercise.”

In fact, a 2015 memo to the minister responsible for Parks Canada went further:

Document received from Parks Canada as a result of an ATIP request.

Document received from Parks Canada as a result of an ATIP request.

 

My fear is that Parks Canada will opt for park-wide moose cull.

 

Twig availability

In terms of what it has said about the moose cull, I refer you to remarks made by park resource conservation manager Rob Howey in a January 13th Cape Breton Post article. Howey, speaking to the Post following the 2018 cull (which began on November 7 and ended three weeks later due to winter conditions), noted the percentage of twigs available for browsing — a sign of reforestation — on North Mountain had increased from 46% in 2015 to 95% by spring 2018. But Howey noted improvement had also been seen at the control site on French Mountain:

Each year since June 2016, both areas have shown a statistically significant decrease in browsed twigs.

Document received from Parks Canada as a result of an ATIP request.

Document received from Parks Canada as a result of an ATIP request.

Does this mean that 138 moose (and an unknown number of unborn fetuses, which Parks Canada doesn’t track) did NOT have to be killed on North Mountain? It would certainly appear to be the case.

And I may seem repetitive about helicopter usage, but when it is as high as 97% (used in 34 of the 35 moose kills in the 2017 harvest) it is, in my opinion, obscene, and not as simple as Howey described it in the Post:

We don’t use a helicopter for herding animals or anything like that…It’s simply used to transport harvesters and locate animals, and also sling harvested animals out of the back country where there is really tough terrain.

The Hyperabundant Moose Management Plan (HMMP) for North Mountain mentions helicopter use (while stating the hunt is “non-motorized”) and echoes Howey’s remarks that helicopters are used for “more remote sites.” And yet, elsewhere, the HMMP states that North Mountain was selected for the test cull precisely because of its “extensive grasslands” and “accessibility due to the Cabot Trail running through the northern portion.”

 

Engaging Canadians?

Now for what Parks Canada doesn’t say about the moose cull.

In September 2018, Parks Canada told a reporter from The Narwhal (who, it should be noted, was writing about the muzzling of Parks Canada employees and scientists that seems to be continuing in the Trudeau era) that:

As an Agency that directly serves the Canadian public, Parks Canada actively seeks opportunities to share information and engage Canadians on the research happening at national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas.

Yet, in the case of the North Mountain moose cull, the agency has developed a communications plan that greatly limits the information shared with the public — apparently because of the outpouring of negativity that resulted when the general public first learned of the cull. As part of that plan:

  • Key talking points emphasize the forest and tree planting, and underplay the killing of moose.
  • Information provided is sparse and usually takes the form of Information Bulletins (IBs) announcing road closures and re-openings to the local communities and media, and sometimes regional media. At times, Parks Canada even goes so far as to remove references to the moose cull from the title of the IB, as was the case with the 2017 harvest:
    Document received from Parks Canada as a result of an ATIP request.

    Document received from Parks Canada as a result of an ATIP request.

     

    At one point in 2016, Parks Canada staff considered not sending out an IB at all, writing: “…we hadn’t heard from media yet about the start date so we considered not sending out an Information Bulletin. But, as you know, we did receive a media request yesterday so we thought it best to inform all media (and, by extension, the public) of the start date and the safety measures we’re taking this year.”

  • Restricted zones during the moose cull prevent media and the public from stopping under penalty of law enforcement action. These restricted zones are useful in preventing unauthorized persons, not involved in the cull, from seeing what is going on and reporting on it.
  • Media questions are anticipated and answers — which are constantly being added to, edited and approved by Ottawa — are developed. The answers are to be used in response to inquiries about the moose cull from media or private individuals.

The Parks Canada website and social media accounts provide sanitized information for the general public. For instance, after the end of the 2018 moose cull, Parks Canada announced on its Facebook page that travel restrictions had been lifted in the Park without indicating that the reason for the closure had been the moose cull.

Parks Canada’s own research has shown a decrease in public negativity toward the cull from 48% to 7%, but I would argue that decrease is nothing to be proud of because it can be directly tied to their strategic communications approach which falls far short of “Parks Canada’s commitment to open and transparent communications.”

A 2017 email from Jason Bouzanis, national director of corporate communications for Parks Canada, notes “…the only real comms planned is the pre- and post-InfoBulletin, and reactive media relations. If that is indeed the case, I have no concerns.”

Document received from Parks Canada as a result of an ATIP request.

Document received from Parks Canada as a result of an ATIP request.

There is obviously a lack of transparency and limited sharing of information by this federal department. Parks Canada Agency is there to serve the Canadian public, but it is very selective about what it feels the general public should know.

Contrast that with this statement from “Wildlife Management in Parks and Protected Areas: Indigenous Peoples and Stakeholder Perceptions in Elk Island National Park,” a masters thesis by Chelsea Ann Parent of the University of Alberta:

National Parks are managed in the interest of and for the people of Canada, therefore, their perceptions and opinions inherently matter. National Parks are held in public trust. Any plans that involve the removal of living animals require and deserve thorough communicated thought, consideration, and consultation…

 

Chronological disorder

According to the Parks Canada communications plan, the general public can learn about what is happening in their local parks by referring to the Parks Canada website and the agency’s social media accounts.

But what if that information they find there is incomplete, or even incorrect?

Moose in CBHNP. Still shot from Parks Canada "Bring Back the Boreal" video. (Source: YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTevrWnhlWg)

Moose in CBHNP. (Source: Parks Canada)

Take, for example, the information contained on the CBHNP website about the “moose reduction program.” The brief summary of the program begins with, “In 2012, after the Hyperabundant Moose Management Plan was approved…”

But a look at the timeline of events pieced together from Parks Canada documents shows you that this statement is simply not true:

2012:

Parks Canada enters into Interim Agreement with Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia.

2014:

Cape Breton Highlands National Park receives approval for a four-year Conservation and Restoration Project to improve forest health. Part of this program will involve “harvesting at least 90% of moose from a 20 km2 area to restore forest regeneration. 1

September 2014:

Parks Canada conducts a “stakeholder consultation on moose management with the Province of Nova Scotia, environmentally oriented organizations, the Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters, local moose hunting guides and the Mi’kmaq. 2

14 October 2014:

Carol Sheedy, Parks Canada’s VP of operations for Eastern Canada, writes to then-Parks Canada CEO Alan Latourelle, requesting approval of “the reduction of hyperabundant moose within CBHNP, as early as December 2014, by means of a First Nations harvest.” 3

20 October 2014

Latourelle approves the request for a First Nations moose harvest.

November 2014:

Three public information sessions are held in communities neighboring the CBHNP. 4

October 2015:

A draft Hyperabundant Moose Management Plan (HMMP) for North Mountain is circulated to stakeholders for review and feedback. It states, in part:

Before active management for wildlife can occur, Parks Canada requires the development of a hyperabundant wildlife management plan according to the process and principles set out in the Parks Canada Management Directive 4.4.11: Management of Hyperabundant Wildlife Populations in Canada’s National Parks. This plan fully satisfies the requirements of the Directive.

1 November 2015

The date on the HMMP available for download on the Parks Canada website.

3 November 2015:

Parks Canada’s Cape Breton Field Unit Superintendent approves the HMMP.

Two things are clear from this: 1) the Hyperabundant Moose Management Plan was not in place in 2012; and 2) the HMMP was not even in place in October 2014 when Carol Sheedy requested — and Alan Latourelle approved — a moose harvest.

 

Latourelle

 

 

 

Cart before horse?

The timeline above suggests a clear attempt was made to place the cart before the horse when it came to killing moose on North Mountain.

A plan to reduce the numbers of moose on North Mountain by “lethal removal” (killing) was ready to proceed:

  • BEFORE a 2015 moose population aerial survey.
  • BEFORE a required Basic Impact Analysis (BIA) was approved on Oct. 30, 2015. And it is very interesting to note that the BIA was recommended, approved, and signed by the same individual, working in three different capacities at the time for the CB Highlands National Park – Resource Conservation Manager, Acting Superintendent, and Project Manager:
    Document received from Parks Canada as a result of an ATIP request.

    Document received from Parks Canada as a result of an ATIP request.

  • BEFORE a Hyperabundant Moose Management Plan for North Mountain was approved.

At the time, it appeared that the proposed 2014 moose cull on North Mountain was postponed due to the huge public outcry, when people learned about it through the media. No doubt the Parks Canada strategic communications approach was developed as a result of that — to limit future information sharing with the public.

 

Park-wide plan

Now that the pilot programs have ended, and Parks Canada, according to Rob Howey, will “spend the year analyzing the results of its pilot project.” The question is, what will it determine from those results?

My fear, after reading innumerable documents related to Hyperabundant Moose Management, is that although the pilot HMMP is supposed to “inform” future decisions about a park-wide cull, such a cull has been contemplated from the beginning.

That October 2014 document (included above) in which then-Parks Canada CEO Alan Latourelle approved the harvest for North Mountain states:

A Hyperabundant Moose Management Plan limited to North Mountain area was proposed after consulting the National Resource Conservation Branch. A park-wide plan will be developed over the course of the project. [emphasis mine]

And a November 2015 Memo to the Minister refers to the HMMP for North Mountain, then states “a project with a more widespread implementation of hyperabundant moose management encompassing the entire Park, planned in the future.”

In December 2017, a Memo to the Minister from Parks Canada CEO Daniel Watson (after noting that “A total of 10 media reports on the 2017 hunt were produced, the majority of which were supportive of the program”) states baldly:

Work on the moose population reduction program…will likely result in the implementation of harvesting rights in National Park contexts in Nova Scotia.

Harvesting_rights

And that is just one of the many references to Park-wide hunting that I have come across in my research.

 

Fair game?

Parks Canada puts a great deal of value on the visitor experience for those who come to our National Parks.

Which is why organizers of the North Mountain moose cull went to great lengths to ensure the public would be unlikely to see a “moose carcass in close proximity” and that “harvested moose would be discretely transported out of CBHNP” 5

I wonder what it might be like for Cape Breton Highlands National Park visitors if hunting were allowed throughout our Park? Would certain hiking trails be restricted at times? Perhaps some scenic lookoffs would be off limits. Imagine welcoming Park visitors with Restricted Zone signs warning them of possible law enforcement action should they stop their vehicles in a zone where shooting is taking place.

Perhaps the future Park visitor experience will include a mandatory dress code of hunter orange vests and hats.

 

A final note

The boreal forest in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, like nature, is ever changing and not something that can be preserved at a certain stage, like a snapshot in time. However, this appears to be what Parks Canada is trying to do – to recreate the pre-budworm landscape.

Nature has been controlling the animal population since time began – they move when there is no food, they get sick and die, they reproduce, they move from inside Park boundaries to outside, where there are hunters. It is when there is human interference that the natural landscape is affected.

Following the extermination of moose in the late 1800s after many years of apparent over-hunting, forests in Cape Breton were able to grow up in areas where they may not have previously existed when the moose were plentiful. After moose were re-introduced into the Cape Breton Highlands National Park in the late 1940s, their numbers appeared to stay under control until the years following the spruce budworm infestation.

Document received from Parks Canada as a result of an ATIP request.

Document received from Parks Canada as a result of an ATIP request.

Nature, when left alone, began the process of renewal. For instance, the above moose density graph for the CBHNP clearly shows a decline from a high of about 4.5 moose per sq km in 2004 to fewer than 2 per sq km in 2015, the result of natural processes, apparently, not human interference.

If Parks Canada wants to interfere and try to affect the natural landscape, then it should be done with more tree planting and more fenced exclosures, or perhaps by considering relocation of animals. (Parks Canada argues this cannot be done because of genetic differences between Cape Breton moose, which were originally from Alberta, and mainland moose. But a 2007 paper co-authored by Derek Quann himself notes that “the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources…has reports in the past 25 years of moose swimming from Isle Madame on southern Cape Breton to Guysborough County on the mainland and back.”)

In other words, by means other than killing living creatures – something that is supposed to be done as a “last resort,” but which appears to have become the method of choice for moose population control in our National Parks.

 

 

Rose Courage was born and raised in Sydney and is a lifelong visitor to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Since retiring from the federal civil service, she has operated a seasonal family craft shop in Indian Brook, Victoria County, with her husband.

 

 

 

 

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  1. 14 October 2014 memorandum to Alan Latourelle
  2. undated Parks Canada background document
  3. 14 October 2014 memorandum to Alan Latourelle
  4. undated Parks Canada background document.
  5. See ATIPed documents in this earlier Spectator story
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