Moose Report Card
The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) recently reflected on moose management in Ontario as we took a look at Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) efforts on a number of issues to date.
The Ontario Moose Project was an MNRF initiative aimed at taking a look at pressures affecting moose, such as disease, climate change, habitat, hunting, and predators. Following the decline in adult validation tags for licensed moose hunters in 2014, the OFAH wrote a letter to MNRF outlining our concerns and recommendations for the future of moose hunting in Ontario. Hunters had been noticing population declines for years, especially in certain Wildlife Management Units, but their pleas for action were repeatedly ignored. It has been three years since our letter was sent (found at ofah.org/moose/action), and this report card was completed in an effort to update the public on MNRF progress relating to population assessments, tourism allocations, population objectives and much more.
Embedded deeply into the core of the OFAH is a commitment to ensure that management agencies deliver responsible policies and practices. Recommendations that were well-addressed were given a grade of “A”, while recommendations that were not addressed were given a grade of “F”.
Population Assessment: C+
The OFAH recommended an increase in funding for moose aerial inventories (MAI) and for the MNRF to improve public confidence in MAI results. The MNRF increased funding from 2014-2016 to address a backlog of MAIs. It remains to be seen if funding levels will remain high in the future. Low public confidence in MAIs remains a concern. The OFAH contributed funding for a small MAI in Hearst District in early 2017, in addition to the MNRF’s annual MAI schedule.
Tourism Industry Allocation: C-
The OFAH recommended that both resident and tourist moose tags be calculated consistently and fairly across MNRF regions and districts. MNRF policy states that no more than 10% of harvestable moose should be allocated to the Tourist Industry (TI). Currently, the Tourist Industry (which provides moose hunts to both resident and non-resident hunters) is allocated 12-15% of the total allowable harvest (percentage varies considerably by WMU). An unknown percentage of the TI allocation goes unused every year, but the MNRF will not reallocate these hunting opportunities to the resident moose hunt.
WMU-Specific Population Objectives: A
The OFAH recommended that the MNRF update WMU-specific moose population objectives, based on public input. Within 18 months, the MNRF drafted population objectives and finalized them in April 2016 as part of Phase 2 of The Moose Project. MNRF made adjustments to some of the proposed population objectives based on public input.
Predator Management : B (black bears) & F (wolves and coyotes)
The OFAH reiterated their long-term recommendation to reinstate the spring bear hunt, for residents and non-residents, across bear range in Ontario.
After sixteen years of advocacy by the OFAH, municipalities, and the hunting community, the MNRF reinstated a spring bear hunt in 88 WMUs for both resident and non-resident hunters, until 2020. Unfortunately, the spring bear hunt is still not permanent and the MNRF has imposed new restrictions on baiting.
The OFAH also recommended liberalizing wolf and coyote hunting in northern Ontario. The MNRF attempted to eliminate the requirement for wolf/coyote game seals in northern Ontario (which would have been an A+), but rescinded their proposal due to significant international pressure.
Habitat Management: B-
The OFAH requested a review of forestry practices and fire suppression policies to identify areas where moose habitat can be improved. In 2015, the MNRF adopted an updated, comprehensive Wildland Fire Management Strategy that recognizes the beneficial ecological impacts of wildland fires. Remains to be seen how the policy will be implemented, and it will take some time to benefit moose habitat and populations. To our knowledge, the MNRF has not evaluated forest management guidelines to ensure they are creating moose habitat as predicted.
Harvest Management: D- (Indigenous harvest estimates) & B (hunter report info)
The OFAH recommends that moose harvest should include estimates from Indigenous communities for management purposes. Some MNRF districts have good relationships with Indigenous communities, but to our knowledge there has been no significant progress made to increase Indigenous involvement in moose management.
The OFAH also recommends that MNRF publicize the moose hunter questionnaire results from 2013 and consult on changes to season length, timing, and other hunting-related management options. The results are available from the MNRF and were published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal that focuses on moose biology and management. The MNRF recently made changes to season length and timing, although opposition from the moose hunting community has been significant.
Technical Committee: F
The OFAH suggested that MNRF establish a Provincial Moose Technical Committee tasked with managing moose populations and identifying information gaps to be addressed. Unfortunately, this recommendation was rejected by the MNRF.
“The MNRF has made some minor progress in some respects, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us to improve our moose population in Ontario,” says Mark Ryckman, OFAH senior wildlife biologist.