In northern and central Ontario, one of the most important species is the moose. Moose have great cultural and economic significance for many Ontario communities, particularly for First Nations and in the north. And who could forget paddling around a corner to see a magnificent bull moose shaking his antlers in the shallows. But what many don’t know is that Ontario’s moose are in trouble. The moose population in Ontario has declined by about 20 per cent over the last decade. Some regions of the province have seen severe drops in the 50 to 60 per cent range.
It gets worse. The population losses that we’re seeing in Ontario are part of a larger decline across the species’ North American range. In response, some jurisdictions, like British Columbia, have restricted moose hunting in certain areas or, like Minnesota, have banned moose hunting indefinitely.
Scientists haven’t identified a single cause of declining moose populations, but the broad geographic scale and synchronous nature of these trends has led some to suggest that there may be common factors driving moose declines across the region. Part of the difficulty in determining the cause is the range of pressures on moose, which include habitat degradation, disease and parasites (e.g., winter ticks), hunting, predation, and severe weather. Climate change will exacerbate many of these pressures.
In our most recent Environmental Protection Report, we took a look at recent steps that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has taken to address moose declines. In 2014, the MNRF launched its Moose Project to address pressures on moose and “help moose numbers reach desired levels.” Key outcomes of the project include: new objectives for moose populations in Ontario; and changes to moose hunting seasons, including a reduced calf hunting season, to further restrict the moose harvest.
A decline of almost 20 per cent in Ontario’s moose population over the last decade, in combination with the more drastic losses across the North American range, is cause for concern. It is critical that MNRF take all the measures within its powers to ensure the health and resilience of Ontario’s moose, before local population declines become a province-wide crisis. But whether the outcomes of the MNRF’s Moose Project go far enough is uncertain. See what the ECO recommended in our 2015/2016 Environmental Protection Report.