According to the numbers, moose and caribou are in decline

Cabin Country by Darrin McGrath | Vol. 7 No. 5 (March 13 2019)

I wish to say Happy Birthday to Mr. Barry Eason of CBS. He and his whole family are avid hunters and trouters. All the best!

The big game applications are out. The deadline for applying is March 29 at 4:30 p.m. If you want to increase your chances of getting a license it may be advisable to check out the hunter success rates in the various moose management areas (MMAs) before you apply.

Included in the mail with your application is a list of the moose management areas (MMAs) and caribou management areas (CMAs) throughout the island and Labrador.

On the island portion of the province the moose herds seem to be at a low level. Of the 54 MMAs listed for the island (some of these are sub-areas such as 2A Cow Head and 2B Sally’s Cove) one third, or 17 out of 54 MMAs had a hunter success rate of 50 percent or less.

To be very clear: 33 percent of the MMAs on this island have hunter success rates of 50 percent or less. That means that one third of our licensed hunters failed to close their tags last year.

The MMAs with less than 50 percent hunter success include: 2A Cow Head; 2B Sally’s Cove; 2E Gros Morne Park; 3 Harbour Deep; 5A Rocky Harbour; 12 Buchans; 26 Jubilee Lake; 28 Black River; 28A Terra Nova Park; 31 Placentia; 33 Salmonier; 35 St. John’s, 37 Grey River East; 39 Cloud River; 44 Bellevue; 47 Random Island; 100 Avalon Road Zone.

So from this list of MMAs with less than 50 percent hunter success you can see that no one region of the island is affected. The low success rates occur in management areas from the Avalon Peninsula to the south coast and up through central and into the Northern Peninsula.

The hunter success rate is an indicator of the moose population in those aforementioned MMAs. Hunter success can be influenced by a variety of factors, however, a low moose density is one of the key elements of decreasing hunter success. The total average success rate across all the 54 MMAs was 58 percent in fall 2018.

So what is going on with our moose stocks? Are we seeing declines in some areas because too many licenses were issued for too many seasons? Have aerial censuses been neglected? Are coy-wolves taking down calves and pregnant cows in winter in deep drifts? Is global warming playing a part in the decline? Has the decline in part been a management strategy to respond to the controversy over moose-vehicle collisions? Moose-vehicle collisions can be catastrophic and result in life altering injuries or even death. But even with a reduction in moose numbers, we can still have moose vehicle collisions.

The situation with the island’s caribou is not much better than that with moose. There are a total of 16 caribou management areas (CMAs) listed for the island, of which 4 are closed to hunting. This means that 25 percent of our CMAs are closed to hunting.

The percentage may be even higher because the CMAs on the Burin Peninsula are omitted from the listing. It is interesting to note that the caribou management areas on the Burin Peninsula are not shown on the list included with the big game application. However, they have been closed to hunting for years. Why were these CMAs excluded from the list?

The four CMAs which are closed to hunting include: 63 Grey River ; 65 Avalon Peninsula; 69 Northern Peninsula; 71 Grey Islands. Notice that there are problems with caribou herds stretching from one end of the island to the other, all the way from the tip of the Northern Peninsula to the south coast (Grey River) to the Avalon Peninsula. With regards caribou, the total average success rate across all 12 CMAs that were open to hunting in fall 2018 was 70 percent.

Of course, big game stocks may be subject to pressures of many sorts and the reason for a decline can be complicated. I don’t profess to have all the answers for the low hunter success rates in a third of our MMAs, nor do I claim to have all the reasons why that 25 percent of our CMAs are in such bad shape that they are closed to hunting.

If we had more moose and caribou the province could sell more licenses to non-residents through outfitters. This would represent new money coming into the province. It’s in everyone’s interest to have healthier big game herds as hunting is an economic generator.

Newfoundland is the only jurisdiction in North America where there is an open season on woodland caribou. We have a precious resource in our caribou, however, it may be a long time before herds such as the Avalon and Grey River rebound enough to allow even a small hunt.

In the past caribou numbers crashed very low and then slowly over time rebuilt. But the rebuild was aided by intensive management in the late 1950s when Wildlife Officer Mike Nolan spent much time monitoring and shepherding the Avalon herd back from the brink. And there was more wilderness in the mid-1950s than there is today.

At present caribou face greater challenges in rebuilding such as the presence of coyotes/wolves. For example, my old pal Steve Chafe recently was spent some time on the gaff Topsails. The snowmobilers never saw any caribou, but Steve told me they did see a large, and he emphasized large, coyote. They drove over to the hill it was on but the fur-bearer had vanished. He said the tracks were big.

All the best to everyone in cabin country!

Posted on March 21, 2019 .