Moose populations have declined across parts of B.C. over the last three decades.Moose is the most-demanded species for resident hunters. Nearly 70

Moose numbers across B.C. in decline

The provincial government is introducing a new moose enhancement plan, a move that is a step in the right direction, but not enough

The provincial government is introducing a new moose enhancement plan, a move that is a step in the right direction, but not enough to solve the larger problem, according to a local rod and gun club representative.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operation (FLNRO) announced last week that it will strengthen its current moose management strategy to focus on growing moose populations, using the interim findings from its five-year (2013 to 2018) province-wide moose research project and its  2015 provincial framework for moose management.

Lake Windermere District Rod and Gun Club president Rick Hoar said that it seems clear that moose populations here in the Upper Columbia Valley are down, but that a broader approach, taking into account the whole ecosystem, is a better way to tackle the issue.

“It’s well enough to say you want to manage moose, or elk, but you then have to managed predators too. It’s all connected,” said Hoar. “We (the Rod and Gun Club) don’t think it’s enough to manage just the moose. You have to manage the whole package.”

Hoar said historically there were a lot of moose, pointing to a 1949 three-week moose count in the Boyce Creek area north of Edgewater by Lyle Thompson that found 200 moose, of which 70 or 80 were bulls and the remainder were cows and calves. Hoar then contrasted that with comments from a moose biologist who had told Hoar just a few weeks ago that “he’s seen enough of a steady decline of moose that we are now in a predator pit.”

Aside from the historical evidence, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting moose populations are plummeting, according to Hoar.

“Rod and Gun Club members are saying moose are almost invisible,” he said. “(Moose) are in a tough spot.”

Moose aren’t the only animal that local hunters have noticed less of recently, he added, saying “white tail deer are dropping, mule deer are in desperate shape and elk are also way down.”

Hoar pointed out some cattle ranchers in the valley are seeing increased attacks on their livestock and said this taken together with the low numbers of moose, elk and deer could suggest an imbalance between predators and prey in the local ecosystem. He also said it could get worse.

“Once you cross a certain threshold, whether it’s a population increase or a populations decrease, the problem starts compounding,” he said.

Hoar said the issue is not just specific to the valley, and is being discussed by other rod and gun clubs and by the East Kootenay Wildlife Association.

“It’s a real problem,” he said. “It’s on the lips of people right across the province.”

Hoar added that from what he can tell, the ministry’s staff on the ground, at least here in the East Kootenay, are sympathetic to the problems, but that ultimately decisions on these matters are coming from higher up.

In the FLNRO press release, Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson said “We’re committed to healthy and sustainable wildlife populations. We’ve heard loudly and clearly from First Nations and stakeholders that we need to re-invigorate and re-examine our existing approaches to wildlife. In modernizing wildlife management processes and decisions, we’re focusing on moose first.” The press release also said that the limited-entry hunt system is moving online for the fall 2016 draw.

The province-wide moose research project mentioned in the press release is a  five-year study that began in 2013 and will wrap up in 2018, which has been undertaken to examine recent moose population declines in B.C.’s interior. The study involves 11 wildlife biologists, one wildlife veterinarian and several other staff, and in it more than 200 cow moose have been radio collared. Their movements are being tracked and all fatalities are being investigated to determine cause of death.

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