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