Ministry reports moose population plummeting

Moose populations decline but difference of opinion on moose assessments and hunting allocations

The moose population in the Cariboo and certain other regions in the province has declined significantly, according to government estimates.

The statistics and related potential for moose-harvesting cuts were recently released in a Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) fact sheet.

However, the indications of reduced hunting allocations have some resident hunters questioning the province’s sampling methods.

South Cariboo resident Garth Lee was British Columbia Wildlife Federation director for seven years and a member for 10 years. He has been its delegate from the Lone Butte Fish & Wildlife Association, as well as sitting on a regional advisory committee.

“The government of British Columbia advertises they manage our wildlife by scientific facts,” says Lee.

“The problem is that they haven’t had enough money to do very many aerial inventories.”

Rodger Stewart, MFLNRO Cariboo region director of resource management, says the declining moose population in the Cariboo region was confirmed through three aerial surveys performed last year.

“Our densities have reduced substantively since the time of our last surveys seven to 10 years ago, depending on [the Cariboo area].

“Our standing crop is reduced by anywhere from 17 to 60 per cent, depending on the area, averaging something like 30 per cent over the whole region.”

The problem lies in the “very substantive decrease” in the total population in the region’s land base, Stewart explains, not in the numbers of moose cow/calf pairs or bulls.

The decline stems from several other factors beyond hunting, all of which are reviewed as part of the analysis, he notes.

Since management is dependent on funding, Stewart adds specific efforts may be needed to target some of those.

However, Lee says in order to manage it scientifically, the inventories need to be done every year, rather than every seven years or more.

The resident hunting advocate says he “doesn’t believe” the numbers on the fact sheet, and that “it’s just a way to use one count every decade or so,” as a basis to make cuts to the annual allowable harvest.

“They are conservative like that because they don’t get enough counts to be confident. So, who is going to take the chances? Who is going to stick their neck out and liberalize any kind of a hunting season, if they’re guessing?”

Stewart explains the ministry uses a standard scientific method of random statistical sampling and models used across North America to estimate both adult or calf moose populations by gender.

Also used are the annual harvest surveys of hunter’s success rates and time lengths to bag their moose, he adds.

“We’ve found it correlates rather nicely to the historic information we’ve got from more detailed surveys.”

Once the aerial counts are done in a grid pattern by fixed wing aircraft, Stewart says the populations are then classified and a random sample of those targeted for more detailed helicopter surveys.

The MNFLNRO manager confirms, however, his department schedules the frequency of the moose counts according to the limitations in the ministry’s budget.

There are 20 management unit sub-zones in the Cariboo, but he notes not all of those are left uncounted for five to 10 years.

“We try to do one to two every year. We try to get to every one every five years, but we can’t always do that.

“We’ve tried to focus lately on being able to survey management unit sub-zones that haven’t been surveyed in a while.”

Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett notes that in her opinion, wildlife management “needs a higher priority and focus” and more moose studies should be funded and performed.

“I know that [MFLNRO] staff does a good job with what they work with, and good scientific work is done, but I support the fact we need more [funding for] wildlife management.”

This is part one of a two-part series on moose populations in the Cariboo.