David Suzuki is the host of the CBC’s The Nature of Things and author of more than 30 books on ecology (with files from Boreal Project Manager Rachel Plotkin).
Because moose are widely hunted, provinces and territories are charged with managing their habitat, ensuring healthy populations and granting tags to hunters.
Although Canada hasn’t assessed moose as at risk nationally, reports are increasing of their worrisome decline in many provinces. Governments cite myriad factors, including disease, climate change, parasites and habitat alteration.
“The population is, in my opinion, heading toward a crisis, and if the decline isn’t stopped it could create a situation from which it may take decades to recover,” retired Ontario moose biologist Alan Bisset writes of his province. “If it gets low enough, predation and unregulated hunting could keep it from growing at all or worse result in local extinction.”
Since governments control the hunt, decreasing the number of seasonal hunting tags seems like a straightforward way to reduce at least one pressure moose populations face. Yet Bisset’s proposal to reduce moose tags also reveals a social dynamic that complicates management, as he recognizes this will likely incur backlash from hunters.
Of course, many responsible hunters support strong management and protection measures. The conservation movement was initiated by hunters to ensure sufficient habitat for preferred game species. But some are also deeply invested in their right to hunt and view hunting limitations as an inherent threat.
In fact, the right to hunt belongs to Indigenous Peoples, and they’ve been among the loudest voices calling for change recently. Many consider moose a cultural keystone species. This summer, the Tŝilhqot’in Nation in B.C. issued a news release: “condemning the B.C. government’s destructive moose harvest allocation for the Chilcotin Region in recent days and expressing its opposition to B.C.’s drastic escalation of Limited Entry Hunts (LEH) for moose in Tŝilhqot’in territory.”
Research reveals that moose rely on forests for parts of their life cycle and that clearings and roads increase hunter access, sightlines and success rates. As Bisset observes regarding Ontario: “In essence, the numbers of tags have never regulated the kill over most of the province. The kill depended on how many moose were vulnerable and exposed to gunfire or arrows.”
It’s time for governments to provide better protection for moose populations, including stricter hunting restrictions. This won’t make everyone happy, but it will provide food security for Indigenous Peoples, benefit other wildlife and ensure healthy moose populations.