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Monthly Archives: February 2015

spring bear-1

It was -38 C this morning at our house. Dang cold. By early December, it was cold and we were bracing for another hard winter like last year. Then around the end of December and well into January, temperatures rose and it was rather pleasant for at least three weeks. Even got above melting a couple of times. Then the deep freeze hit and ever since there has not been much respite. Only a few days have not been downright bone-chilling cold.

On the other hand, days are noticeably longer and one can actually feel that the sun has some warmth in it. That is, if you are sheltered, out of the wind and facing due south. Then, there’s just a hint of spring.

This spring sees the second year of a two-year pilot for “an early, open black bear hunting season for residents” in eight Wildlife Management Units’s; two around the city of Thunder Bay, two around the city of Timmins, one near the City of Sault Ste. Marie, and three that encompass the cities of Sudbury and North Bay. My understanding of the pilot project (activity planned as a test or trial) is to evaluate how the hunt went and make decisions on how, where, when and if spring bear hunting should be allowed to continue. Since 1999, when the spring bear hunt was cancelled, there had been no spring bear hunting anywhere in Ontario until 2014.

Like last year, the season in 2015 runs from May 1 to June 15. Last year, 847 hunters harvested < 200 bears. I suspect the numbers will be about the same this year.

What does this mean? Who knows. There’s a lot of divergent opinion about the spring bear hunt.

It’s the classic case of trying to run a program on a ‘science-based’ foundation when the issue has actually very little to do with science.

Bear hunting in general, but particularly spring bear hunting, is all about emotions and agendas. One camp says bear hunting is bad. As evidence they talk about cuddly little cubs, orphaned when mother is shot, with little to no chance of survival, and the unethical nature of shooting bears in the spring, over bait, after a long winter’s hibernation (note: in the spring, it is illegal to kill a mother bear with cubs). This camp is unequivocal in their perspective – no spring bear hunt.

Another segment of society says bears can be a problem, they have economic value, and the best way to address these and other issues is to allow for a spring bear hunt. The problems are many: one, big bears do, on occasion, attack and kill people. They also prey upon other mammals, including moose and deer, whose numbers are in decline in much of Ontario. They can become a pest in urban areas. This camp thinks a spring bear hunt is a good thing, and it can be done on a sustainable basis that’s justified on social as well as biological principles.

I don’t know which view is going to triumph after the two-year pilot project is over. I think hunting and hunters have become somewhat more acceptable to the public at large than they were 15 years ago, but whether the spring bear hunt will expand in scope, or even continue, is still a very up-in-the-air question. Whatever the government chooses to do, there are large numbers of people who won’t be happy.

Personally, I won’t be bear hunting this spring. If the season were open where I live, I would probably buy a license, though. Once every few years, we have a bear who insists on raiding the garden, rummaging in the greenhouse or breaking into the chicken and rabbit pens. One chased Lillian around the house on a couple of occasions. We have tried live-trapping and removal, but the bears returned with two days, even though they had been relocated over 100 kms distant. I’ve tried shooting them with rubber bullets, which seemed to have no discernible effect as a deterrent. In these circumstances, I’d rather have as an option the ability to eliminate the bear under the auspices of a licence, as opposed to simply destroying it as a nuisance.

Bear season opens in about two months. By the time it opens, I hope to be turkey hunting. Gobble Gobble!

logging-16

Better management of moose habitat is often put forward as a way to improve populations of moose. Lately, this aspect of moose management has been getting more attention in Ontario, as well as in other jurisdictions where moose populations have declined. But managing moose habitat isn’t easy.

In forested landscapes, moose thrive best where there is a combination of young and old stands of trees, which in proximity provide moose with food and shelter. Historically, moose populations did best in areas where fires, blowdown or insect infestations occurred. Fire was especially important, as fires were frequent and widespread. However, these days, because of fire suppression efforts, much less of the forest is getting burnt. Data in Ontario suggests that before fire suppression, about 1.54% of the forest burnt every year. These days, it’s closer to .17% – or only about 10% of what it used to be.

Until recently, that didn’t really matter, because of logging. Not too many years ago, about 530,000 acres of forest was cut annually on Crown (public) land in Ontario, and most of that in northern Ontario where moose roam. With the collapse of the pulp and paper industry, which started a little more than 10 years ago, the harvest area is now only about 1/2 of what it used to be. Less area burnt and logged has resulted in less ideal moose habitat (the best feeding areas are forest stands less than 25 years of age).

And that’s not the only problem. These days, the goal of forest management practices is mainly to emulate natural processes, or to make a cut area look as much like a burn as possible. Both legislation and government policies dictate this approach, even though most scientists believe this “cornerstone of sustainable forest management” is probably not valid, because logging is a physical process while fire is a chemical process.

In Ontario, there are provisions to manage for moose habitat, but only through an approved forest management plan and only if specific areas, called “moose emphasis areas” are identified. From what I can gather, there have been few moose emphasis areas identified in recently approved forest management plans. What I’ve been hearing is that the reasons for this are the ‘crisis’ in in the forest products industry (managing for better moose habitat is an added cost that is best avoided) and there are few who have the knowledge and skill set required to implement the approved moose habitat guidelines.

Obviously then, moose habitat management in Ontario is a problem. But even if better moose habitat management was to occur, results (more moose) will be slow to see. It would likely take a number of years to noticeably improve habitat conditions, and better habitat alone won’t result in more moose if mortality, especially from hunting, predation and disease, isn’t reduced.

moose-32

Ontario has finally said what it intends to do, at least with respect to hunting, about declining moose populations in Ontario. But not until 2016. Seven years ago (2008) the headline for the May 24 issue of the Lake of the Woods Enterprise was “Calf draw is option to boost moose numbers'”. Since then, not much was done, except to continue to reduce adult tags in some WMU’s, and make it somewhat more difficult for hunters to transfer tags amongst one another. At that time, about 9,500 moose were harvested – since then, the annual harvest of moose by licensed hunters has declined to about 6,000 moose.

So finally, something is being proposed to be done. But it’s not a calf draw, where numbers of calf tags available would be limited. Instead, what’s being proposed over much of northern Ontario is to delay the opening date of the moose season for adults by a week, and the calf season until the Saturday closest to Oct. 22, and then have it open (calf moose hunting) for only two weeks. After the closure of the calf season, only adults could be harvest until the end of the season, which will stay the same (generally ending on Dec. 15).

Rather than controlling the calf hunt directly, like adult moose are (everyone who buys a moose licence can shoot a calf moose; adult moose can only be killed if one has a tag, which are limited and need to be applied to through a draw system), the government is choosing to use an indirect approach; basically, shortening the season, and moving the calendar dates so southern Ontario hunters can’t make the trek north to hunt moose, including calves, then continue to hunt calf moose during the remainder of the season closer to home. Opening of the adult moose season later is meant to virtually eliminate the possibility of gun hunters calling in bull moose, as the rut will be well over by the time the season opens.

Personally, I don’t like the proposed changes. Eliminating the opportunity to try and call in a bull moose takes away one of the most exciting and enjoyable moose hunts there is. And I don’t think delaying the opening date will actually accomplish the goal (reduced bull kill).

There’s a couple of reasons for that, which includes invoking the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Delaying the start of the hunt by a week is going to increase the number of hunters in the woods during the opening week. Right now, many hunters choose to hunt the 2nd week of the season, just to avoid the crowds. Many hunters will be reticent to do that now, because it greatly increases the risk of having to deal with bad weather (snow and freeze-up) and for many, it means the end of the moose hunt will be concurrent with the start of the deer hunt. No ‘time-off’ between hunts, which many hunters need because of family or other commitments.

With more hunters in the woods for the opening of the season and with almost 100% leaf-fall making moose more visible, I think the proposed change in seasons may actually result in an increase in adult moose hunter success rates. Plus, when adult moose can be hunted, but calf moose hunting is not permitted, there’s likely to be an increase in the number of orphaned calf moose (cows shot, but not their calf). These calves are for the most part, doomed. Without their cow, a calf moose has little chance of surviving the winter and predation by wolves.

I also do not believe that gun hunters harvesting bull moose that respond to a call during the present hunt season is an issue. Data shows the average breeding dates in North America range from about Sept. 28th to Oct. 12, which suggests that in most years, most moose would have been bred by the time the gun season opens (Saturday closest to Oct. 8th).

Further, adult moose tags are limited in number, so the total kill by licensed hunters can be, and is, controlled.

As an example, in WMU 7A, where moose numbers have collapsed from a high of close to 1,400 to almost zero, there was only one (1!!) bull tag available in 2014. In WMU 7B, where the latest population estimate was around 300 moose, only 10 bull tags were available in 2014. In these and many other WMU’s, delaying the opening of the season will do nothing to increase the moose population. It will, however, make the hunting experience more unpleasant.

Also it is of note that no changes are proposed in the regulations for the archery hunt. The archery hunt generally runs from around Sept. 20th to the opening of the gun hunt, which means many if not most of the bull moose taken by archers are killed before they have had a chance to breed.

Finally, indirectly trying to control the calf kill is unlikely to work, and if it does, gains will be limited. Most calves are killed during the first two weeks of the hunt now; logic suggests reducing the season to two weeks will see little in the way of a harvest reduction. I’m of the opinion that in WMU’s where moose populations are below some agreed upon level, hunting should be limited to bulls only, and the allowable harvest would be small. And except, maybe, in areas where moose populations are very robust, the calf moose harvest needs to have direct controls. I’m of the opinion that the wide-open, everyone can harvest a calf moose hunt, is a management experiment that has failed.

There are a number of other issues that need to be addressed to improve moose numbers, most of all how to manage/accommodate/negotiate rights based hunting so everyone benefits (including the moose), and how to manage habitat and predation, which unlike many other factors, can actually be influenced by human action. I’ll provide comments on those issues on another day.

If you’re a moose hunter, or have an interest in moose, have a peek at the ebr posting. I’ve provided the link, below. And if you have comments, be sure to let the government know. Last date for comments is March 09.

EBR Registry Number:   012-3413
Title:
Amendment to regulations under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act for moose hunting in northern Ontario
Ministry:
Ministry of Natural Resources
Date Proposal loaded to the Registry:
February 06, 2015

http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/displaynoticecontent.do?noticeId=MTI0MzI5&statusId=MTg3MTU2&language=en

caribou-11

I was watching the news on TV the other day, and there was a story about the high cost of food in the north, and whether more couldn’t be done to help lower costs so that people could get good, nutritious food at a reasonable price. There was a boycott going on with the main grocery chain, which claimed it was doing what it could, and would try to do even more. The government, of course, also received poor marks for their part in food delivery.

What piqued my interest was when one of the people being interviewed said something like ‘We used to eat a lot of country food, but not any more. Now, most of the food we get is from the store’.

What’s going on here? Is no one hunting or fishing anymore? Because that’s what ‘country food’ is – ptarmigan, goose, caribou, fish – all the things hunters and fishermen pursue. I find it hard to believe no one is hunting and fishing anymore, especially in such remote areas where there’s not a lot of regular employment and where hunting and fishing is and always has been a way of life.

If there isn’t much hunting and fishing going on, I suspect it’s largely because of a lack of fish and game.

For example, with respect to game (animals), on Baffin Island in the arctic, CBC recently reported that ‘an aerial survey in 2012 — the first ever of its scale — found only about 5,000 caribou , a decrease of up to 95 per cent of population estimates in the 1990s’.

Other, similar declines of caribou have recently occurred elsewhere, although caribou populations in many areas of the north remain robust. Caribou are a traditional, staple part of the diet in many northern communities that are populated mostly by Aboriginal people.

Why have a number of caribou populations collapsed? The reasons are many, but I believe a contributing factor is that modern principles of wildlife management are not being implemented in many areas. Instead of monitoring and managing wildlife, the focus almost everywhere in the north is on ‘rights’. Namely Aboriginal and Treaty Rights. In modern society, it takes more than the implementation of rights to manage wildlife sustainably.  Certainly, there is a need to use the knowledge of local peoples, also referred to as ‘Traditional Ecological Knowledge’, or TEK when managing wildlife, but modern science-based biological principles can’t be ignored.  Too often it is, though, and the end result is not pretty.

Better wildlife management – including use and distribution of wildlife – needs much more attention than it’s been getting. Like, what happens to the meat of a caribou or moose that’s been taken by a southern, licensed/tourist hunter? I know when I went caribou hunting in Alaska, we could only take home 60 lbs of meat. What happened to the rest? I know a lot was simply left behind for the wolves, grizzly bears and other scavengers. Surely there could be a better system to get more of this valuable protein to northern inhabitants.

Another example that comes to mind is, why aren’t  snow geese, that nest in the north, being harvested and distributed to folk in the north, who could make good use of them (or are they, but it’s something not being talked about?) It’s been documented that there are so many snow geese, they are eating themselves out of house and home. In many states and provinces, there’s now a spring and fall hunt, and in some areas the daily bag limit is 20, with no possession limit! One would think that a northern harvest of several thousand geese could be done on a sustainable basis so as to help fill the annual food needs for a lot of northern families.

In the remote north, there’s no doubt it’s expensive to fly or truck in food. But it’s always been assumed that a staple part of the northern diet is country food. If the supply of country food is drying up, that’s a serious problem that requires fixing.