Here in Ontario, the moose population is in decline. Dividing the province into 95 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs), the province did aerial surveys between 2013 and 2015 in 59 of the 67 WMUs where moose are hunted. In the 2015 survey of 27 WMUs, there were moose declines in 15 of them, with populations stable in 10 of them, and increasing in one. In one WMU, the results were undetermined. Similar mixed results occur in adjoining US states.
It appears that, in no specific order, chief concerns are as follows: unregulated hunting by First Nations in accordance to their treaty rights; allowing an increase in the number of female moose and calves who can be legally killed in the regulated (non-First Nations) hunt; an increase in the length of the hunting season; an increase in the use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs); increased road access to otherwise remote moose habitat and fragmentation of viable moose habitat; climate change and how it can degrade the ability of habitat to support moose; forest management practices, including fire suppression, that can negatively affect the forest's ability to sustain moose; increased success by hunters in response to technological improvements in their ability to find and kill moose; and, ultimately, the accumulative effect of this particular suite of factors in determining moose population size.
All of those factors are human-caused, or "anthropogenic," in nature.
Non-anthropogenic factors governing the survival of moose include disease, parasites, and predators. And, while all three have always been present - and are not, historically, factors in moose decline - all three also respond to a wide range of anthropogenic factors in ways that are not always well-understood.
And, all of this is further compounded by cuts to government spending on research and enforcement of game laws.
The entire, hugely complex situation exists within a social-political reality whereby special interest groups try to influence government policy which, in turn, is predicated on political expedience. That ultimately translates to the need to attract votes from a public who largely knows little about moose, but wants the government's Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) to do the "right thing," whatever that may be. What the MNRF wants is to reverse the decline. There were once significantly more moose than there are now in Ontario.
That all said, my bias is that I, Born Free USA, and people and organizations like us seek reasons to not kill animals. Let us get that out of the way up front, because there are two other particularly influential "stakeholders" vying to influence MNRF decisions on what to do. The First Nations clearly want to exercise legal treaty rights. And, hunters, including their lobbying agency, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), want to be able to kill moose. Moose are the largest of Ontario's big game species, and many people who want to find reasons to kill animals want to kill moose.
But, not just moose!
They also want to kill practically any other animal they allege hurt moose numbers and think will be allowed by government legislators - and that especially includes wolves and bears. OFAH is a major force in a disinformation campaign in northern and central Ontario to reinstate the spring bear hunt, as discussed here last year.
There may be no politically viable way MNRF can influence the unknown and unknowable number of moose killed by First Nations under treaty rights. Mitigating global climate change is beyond MNRF's ability.
Parasites and disease pose possibly irresolvable challenges. One parasite,Parelaphostrongylus tenuis, popularly known as "brainworm," lives in white-tailed deer without harm, but can infect moose, where it causes a hideous death. The deer reach their northern limits in Ontario while the moose reach the southern limit of their own range. Where they overlap, moose often die from brainworm infections. The brainworm can't survive on moose alone, since the parasites die, so they are restricted to where the deer live.
Limits to other anthropogenic change deleterious to moose come with what I suspect is too high a political cost. Destructive logging, mining, resource extraction, industrial activities, and such recreational events as snowmobiling will continue - to the detriment of moose habitat.
Bears normally don't kill and eat moose, but can sometimes kill calves, and certainly eat carrion (typically before the hunting season opens), while wolves tend to take moose prey in the winter, after the hunting season ends.
To hunters, it seems simple; kill the predators so they can kill the moose, who therefore survive. Ironically, with regard to deer, they often argue the reverse: that they have to kill "surplus" deer because of a lack of "natural predators." Either way, the answer is always to kill. It's what they do.
The biological reality is far more complex than hunters seem to realize, and past regulations on such hunting as the MNRF can control shows mixed results from what was hoped. That always means more research is required, which we support.
We have, meanwhile, recommended a stop to all moose hunting actions, at least until the stated goal of a "healthy and resilient" moose population is achieved (and until additional Conservation Officers can be hired to enforce the ban). We would like to see Ontario hire a moose management and support staff, with adequate funding. If hunting is to resume when moose populations recover, the hunting of calves or family groups and pregnant females should be prohibited. The use of dogs should be prohibited. All resident and non-resident hunters should be mandated to report all moose killed or wounded, or lose their hunting privileges. Key access roads should be closed to hunters. Forestry and other land use practices should be carefully evaluated in order to protect moose. Stop making money from the sale of hunting licenses from the Special Services Account, which funds management, to remove the incentive to allow moose hunting.
Finally, difficult as it may be, we need the MNRF and First Nations to negotiate an agreement about the numbers of moose killed by First Nations hunters, and report those numbers.
Conservation can and does work ... when we stop killing the animals we want to conserve.
Keep Wildlife in the Wild,