The provincial government has announced it will be looking into why moose populations seem to be declining throughout B.C., but wildlife experts don’t expect to find the culprit in the East Kootenays.
“At the regional scale, there’s not strong evidence of a strong moose population decline as they’ve seen up in the north,” said Patrick Stent, who’s a biologist with B.C. Fish and Wildlife.
He said that moose populations have been higher in the valley during other timeframes, and said the health of the population is largely contingent on events that shape ecosystems, such as forestry and wildfires. Deer and elk benefit more earlier on after logging or a wildfire, while moose generally prosper between 10 and 15 year after one of those events, he said.
“We have seen some local declines, and we think that’s attributed to the habitat no longer being as suitable as it has been in the past,” he said.
Mr. Stent will be assisting with the province-wide study if the Kootenays are involved, but he doesn’t expect that the local region will be a part of it.
“In the southern part of B.C., moose populations are generally quite a bit lower than in the northern regions,” adding that boreal forests are attractive environments.
“Their habitat, right around the Columbia Valley communities, isn’t really ideal,” said Invermere conservation officer Greg Kruger. He did however mention that the Columbia Wetlands offer a healthy habitat for moose.
Occasional aerial surveys are undertaken to track populations he said, but this study will be more comprehensive and better understand what effects logging and predation have on moose.
In Maritime provinces, where an overpopulation of moose has become problematic, the animals were artificially introduced and have no natural predators, Mr. Stent said.
One predatory species, cougars, will see their hunting season come to an end at midnight on Saturday, February 15th, after beginning on September 10th.
While hunting permits are issued at a regional level, the practice can take place anywhere in the province. The length of the cougar hunting season can be adjusted year-to-year, and gender quotas can be set, B.C. Fish and Wildlife biologist Tara Szkorupa explained.
“We look at the harvest and population estimate, and modify hunting regulations and quota based on that information to ensure that we have a sustainable harvest,” she said.
Mr. Stent said that the findings of the moose study don’t likely correlate to cougar hunting practices, as “cougars don’t generally prey on moose, so it won’t have a huge tie,” he said.
He said that there are currently around 950 to 1,300 cougars in the entire Kootenay Region. More than 400 permits were issued in the region and the hunter success was an average of 26 per cent.