In parts of Ontario and adjoining provinces and states, there have been serious declines in moose numbers. Some media reports claim it is a mystery, although I suspect that everyone who thinks objectively about it realizes there is an obvious range of probable causes as to why the environment supports fewer moose. And now, biologists are gathering and sorting data to examine such factors and their respective roles in the decline.
Meanwhile, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) recently made some modest changes in hunting regulations that ultimately reduces the number of moose to be hunted. Hunters must continue to buy licenses to kill moose, and then, as usual, their names are entered into a drawing to determine who gets to kill adult moose. The rest get to hunt calves only. But, the Ministry reduced the calf hunting season to two weeks and wants to delay the start of the gun hunt by one week in 2016.
Hunters are upset, of course (as they seem to be whenever they are asked to limit killing in the name of so-called conservation). A couple of weeks ago, I had an interesting talk with a hunter and he made the point that perhaps the limiting should be on female moose because they might still have dependent young, and that way, more adult males could be killed. And, of course, he advocated for killing bears and wolves.
I suggested that they just stop killing moose and allow them to recover. "But," he said, "they taste so good." That argument has to be added to hunters' concerns that a two week season will "make it difficult for hunters to accommodate fluctuations in weather, work schedules, and hunting preferences," according to the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH).
The research has clearly shown that for moose (and caribou in British Columbia), the human activity that reduces ungulate populations means the impact of any loss of animals (to human hunters, nonhuman predators, or anything else) has a greater impact on population survival overall than when ungulate populations are normal. Seems obvious, but hunters interpret that to mean that the predators are too common - even though they've been there all along, for thousands of years, without wiping out the moose (or caribou). Bears eat very few moose calves, in fact, while wolves are more predatory. The reports of calf remains in bear scat (that have led hunters to conclude that bears attack calves) are indistinguishable from remains derived from scavenging on carcasses.
What we do know is that "encroachment" is increasing in the forest, with more roads, fences, snow mobiles, motor boats, float planes, forestry, mining, skiing, and so much other commercial and recreational activity that the ungulates are seriously compromised. Rapid climate changes are having effects never seen nor studied prior to now. These are wilderness creatures whose wilderness is both changing and shrinking.
So, what to do? Blaming natural predators is the solution of OFAH and its counterparts, in hopes that they can kill even more animals ... both the predator and the prey. OFAH is even claiming that there are more bears than ever in Ontario, though all the best scientific evidence indicates that the bear population has remained fairly constant. There are, however, a lot more people and there is a lot more human activity inimical to survival of some forest species.
The denial of inconvenient facts seems to be increasing within our own species, with hunters blaming bears and wolves for what they and their own kind have caused. I can think of no greater impediment to conservation than such short-sighted ignorance of the facts. I do understand that, for whatever reasons, there are people who want to kill big animals-but conservation should trump their desire to shoot them.