On Nov. 8, Parks Canada resumed a moose population reduction effort in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia, attempting to restore boreal forests.
The removal, which could run until Dec. 18, allows aboriginal Mi’kmaq hunters to harvest moose (Alces alces) out of season in a specific 20-square-kilometer area on North Mountain within the park.
According to Parks Canada, 15 years of scientific studies show that the park’s moose population is overabundant. The most recent population survey, conducted in 2015, measured moose density at 1.9 moose/km2 – four times the amount a balanced forest can usually support, according to the report. Dense moose populations can over-browse young tree saplings, restricting their ability to regenerate. As a result, boreal forests are being replaced by grasslands, reducing the amount of habitat suitable for forest species like the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) and American marten (Martes americana).
“[A]bout 11 percent of the park, which should be 30- [to] 35-year-old regenerated forest now, is converted to grasslands. So that’s a significant ecosystem impact that affects not just the moose and the vegetation, it affects all the species that rely on the habitat that that kind of boreal forest provides,” said Derek Quann, a Parks Canada official, as quoted by The Cape Breton Post.
Aiming to reduce browsing pressure and encourage tree regeneration, Parks Canada and the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources conducted the first moose cull on North Mountain last autumn. Approximately 90 percent (37 individuals) of the North Mountain’s population was harvested. This year’s target harvest is another 90 percent of the area’s current population to reduce the population to a total of three of four individuals in the area. The meat will be shared among local families and food banks.
Per the management plan, Parks Canada will conduct a population survey late this winter following the removal to determine if the moose population has been sufficiently reduced to align with management objectives.The overall effectiveness of removals will be measured by spring vegetation monitoring: a significant decrease in the percentage of twigs browsed over the winter compared to the 2014 baseline data will indicate success.
The moose removal effort is part of Parks Canada’s 4-year Bring Back the Boreal project to restore boreal forest in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Launched in 2014, the project involves testing various boreal forest regeneration methods across the park, including tree plantings and constructing exclosures to prevent browsing.