Earlier this winter, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) flew an almost unprecedented number of moose surveys. Although MNR has yet to release the results of the surveys, there is some preliminary information that has become available. The picture, if you like moose, isn’t pretty.
It seems 25 surveys were flown across the province, in all three MNR administrative regions. Each survey is an estimate of the moose population in a particular Wildlife Management Unit (WMU). Most of the moose occur in the Northwest and Northeast Regions, while most of Ontario’s human population lives in the Southern Region. Moose surveys in any given WMU are usually flown every 3-7 years, and aerial moose surveys have been done in the province for decades. Surveys used to be done from a fixed-wing aircraft, but these days, most if not all are done using helicopters.
According to sources, ‘most’ of this winter’s surveys in the Northwest Region (14) revealed declining moose populations. All 7 surveys flown in the Northeast Region showed declining populations, while the 4 surveys flown in the Southern Region showed increasing moose populations. However, the WMU’s in Southern Region tend to be considerably smaller than those in the two northern regions, and are not considered to be in the ‘core’ moose range..
Some of the declines were substantial – about 30-80% down from the last survey – and indicated moose are well below population objectives.
What’s causing this decline? No one knows for sure, but there are a number of likely culprits, including high predator numbers, a decline in the quality of moose habitat, disease and parasites (particularly brain or meningeal worm), various aspects of hunting regulations and a myriad of other possibilities.
As more results become available, I’ll post them.
I’m also working on an article on the status of moose in Ontario, and when that’s eventually published, I’ll either post it, or provide a link to it.
Ontario is not the only jurisdiction where moose numbers are in decline – substantial moose population declines are also occurring in the adjacent state of Minnesota and province of Manitoba. Interestingly, moose populations are booming in Canada’s western prairie regions.
As alarming as the results of these recent surveys are, wildlife population ups and downs are actually rather normal. A stable population – which many wildlife managers strive for – is actually the abnormal situation. In my opinion, it’s likely moose populations will at some point bottom out and will, eventually, start to grow. At least that’s the hope.