By Fran Yanor, Local Journalism Initiative
An increase in hunt tags for cows and calves in two areas of the province was renounced by some as flawed wildlife management, while others called it a science-led strategy to protect at-risk caribou.
“An abundant moose population results in an abundance of wolves,” Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, told The Goat last week.
Moose numbers have increased in Parsnips, north of Prince George, and the population in the Revelstoke area has risen 55 per cent over three years, Donaldson said. “When there’s more moose around, more caribou will be predated upon as well,” he continued. “Wolves don’t discriminate between a moose or a caribou.”
Caribou don’t do well with predators and usually live in difficult-to-access locations, said Jesse Zeman, director of Fish and Wildlife Restoration at BC Wildlife Federation. When an area has been logged, wolves use logging roads to reach caribou they previously couldn’t reach easily. The short-term fix to protect caribou is to employ predator control and reduce alternate prey, explained Zeman.
“Population management is needed until protection and recovery of habitat overcome the legacy of industrial development.” according to a collaborative study by Canadian and American researchers.
“The science that’s recommended through our experts,” said Donaldson, “is that by reducing the prey, which in this case, is moose for wolves, we’re able to add to our management of the caribou.”
Which is where limited entry hunting (LEH) came in. Applications opened last week. A lottery-type process to authorize hunting of a particular species in a specific area, the 2020-2021 season included increases for moose cows and calves around the Revelstoke and Parsnip areas.
The moose population in the Revelstoke area is estimated at about 575 moose. Provincially, there is a total estimated population of 147,500 moose, while 420 cow and calf hunt tags issued for 2020/2021. With a harvest success rate of 27 percent, the tags represent 0.00007 per cent of the total moose population in B.C., said Zeman.
“To put that into perspective, we’re going to kill more moose now with vehicles around the city of Prince George alone,” he said, over the span of a year, “then licensed hunters will kill in the whole province.”
Scott Ellis, executive director of Guide Outfitters of B.C., disagrees with the premise that reducing moose will save the caribou. “It’s a very simplistic alternate trade theory.” After 15 years of using that wildlife management approach, he said, “Do we have any more caribou in that area? No, we don’t.”
Depending how far back the timeline extends, both perspectives of the moose populations may be correct. A moose population survey done in the Revelstoke area in 2014 noted estimates of the then-current population of 286 moose, versus 806 moose in 2007, and 1,650 moose in 2003.
The situation is complex, says Ellis. Yes, wolves have increased, but the landscape has also been altered by logging, and there are grizzly bears, black bears, and a host of other predators and prey which also figure into caribou restoration.
Two ‘levers to pull’ in caribou recovery involve creating continuous and quality habitat for food and cover, and reducing predators, said Ellis. Which is to say, scale back logging and kill wolves. “Neither of those decisions are popular,” Ellis said,” Everyone digs in with their own emotions of what they think about doing those things.”
Zeman said predator control has been happening in Revelstoke since 2017. “We’re shooting wolves, we’re managing moose populations and slowly scaling logging back,” he said. “It’s not happening as fast as people would like… there’s so many competing interests and values on the landscape.”
For Dan Simmons, a self-described carpenter, fisher and hunter from the Williams Lake area, any cow or calf moose hunting is wrong. “They absolutely have to stop the antlerless moose hunting in this province,” he said. Simmons started the Cow Moose Sign Project in 2014. “Everybody knew moose were disappearing and nobody was doing anything about it,” he said. “Finally, I just got mad; I got a couple signs made up, and it snowballed.”
The signs feature large photos of cows and calves with a slogan to respect the cow for the health of future moose populations. The grassroots movement has gained support from hunters, guide outfitters, non-hunters, more than 30 First Nations, and ironically, the provincial government, said Simmons, who estimates more than 1,000 signs, including billboards, have been purchased from the sign-making company and put up throughout the province (the project is non-profit).
“Then our ministry sells tags to resident hunters,” said Simmons, referring to LEH authorizations. “It’s a backwards move.”
Cow and calf hunting is prohibited in 88 per cent of the areas occupied by moose in the province, said Donaldson. Most areas, including the Omineca-Peace (besides Parsnips) and Cariboo-Chilcotin areas, had no change in LEH authorizations this year. The final decision will come in June, the Minister said. “But this is the path that’s being recommended right now.”
Ellis hopes the strategy was an oversight. “Since this is something the Minister inherited, we think he missed it,” he said, adding, there’s still time to change course.
Simmons, too, is optimistic. He hopes to hear from the Minister or get a response to the unanswered letter he sent Premier John Horgan in 2017. “It’s about the moose,” he said. “The future needs the moose.”