By Lee Kemball
In recent news (throughout Manitoba) announcements have been released concerning declining moose populations.
Following these announcements, full conservation hunting closures were put in place for Game Hunting Areas (GHA’s) 13, 13A, 14, 14A, 18, 18A, 18B, and 18C (Porcupine Provincial Forest east to Lake Winnipegosis, and Duck Mountain) where moose populations declined over 50% (Manitoba Conservation 2011). Closures through agreements reached between the provincial government, First Nation communities, hunter organizations, and interested groups and were announced July 4, 2011.
In GHA 26, the area north of Pine Falls and Lac du Bonnet, the moose population has declined 65% (2,350 to 823) since 2001, which is a loss of 139 moose each year. Consultations between the province and First Nation communities have been slow resulting in only 30% of GHA 26 being closed to all hunting as of January 20, 2012; a full two years after licensed hunting had been suspended in the whole area.
A number of additional issues have been identified as contributors to the moose population decline including “regulated hunting”, predation, and disease. I would like to focus on hunting in particular, the difference between licensed and rights-based hunting, how they are very different, and how each affects the moose population in GHA 26.
For over 40 years licensed hunting in GHA 26 has been limited to 2 weeks in December. Since 1980 each licensed hunter has been restricted to harvesting one antlered bull moose. The purpose of allowing only male adult moose to be harvested is maintaining sustainability of the population to reproduce (Timmerman and Buss, 1997). After inception of the bag limit of one bull moose, annual licensed hunting harvest has averaged 25 bull moose per year. Using the 2006 population of 1,553 moose, the licensed harvest equates to 1.6% of the total population. The amount of moose hunting licenses sold in Manitoba has fallen from 10,200 in 1982 to 3,749 in 2010/11. A Manitoba resident moose license cost’s $52.00 and goes toward supporting conservation projects such as aerial surveys and includes the $190,000 announced by Greg Selinger for GHA’s 14, 18, and 26 in March 21, 2011. The use of vehicles (trucks, ATV’s, and snowmobiles) by licensed hunters was restricted to designated routes are limited in the area. Consequently this means licensed hunters must walk to locate a moose in order to harvest.
Rights based hunting remains unrestricted in GHA 26. Rights based hunters may hunt at any time of year, without limits on how many animals, and of what gender may be harvested. Equipment use including ATV’s, night lights, snowmobiles and vehicles is also unrestricted. There is no tagging system in place and no fee to support conservation projects. As a result, the number of rights-based hunters, the amount of, and the gender of moose harvested is unknown. An estimate however was provided in the Manitoba Model Forests February, 2011 edition of Moose News; of 275 moose per year between 2006 and 2010 were being harvested by rights based hunters; that is 18% of the 2006 population of 1,553 moose.
The use of ATV’s and vehicles while hunting should be limited strictly for retrieval of the animal after it has been harvested, and should not be allowed to search for and locate moose. Access provided by logging roads which are no longer in use for the purpose of timber harvesting should be decommissioned immediately. The harvesting of female moose and calves suppresses the reproduction capability and recruitment of the moose herd and should be regulated.
Studies have been done, and the message is clear; moose populations are declining due to access and unregulated hunting. All hunters, licensed and rights-based, should be obligated to report animals harvested including location, gender, and date of harvest. Seasons and limits are in place for conservation purposes and should be followed by ‘all’ hunters.
I encourage everyone reading this article to visit the Manitoba Model Forest website www.manitobamodelforest.net and read about what is being said by the moose management committee. For twenty years they have tried to address the same concerns mentioned above and the problem only continues to get worse. For conservation’s sake …the majestic king of the backwoods needs our help.
—Kemball is a student of the Natural Resources Managment Technology program at the University College of the North and a resident of Pine Falls