This is a continuation of a publication from the 1980’s entitled “Why Shoot Cow Moose”. Here are more options for the management of British Columbia’s declining moose populations. This guest article was researched and written by Ken Child, Wildlife Biologist.
How Can the Situation be Corrected?
“The best thing that a manager can do for this moose herd would be to introduce a harvest strategy that would:
(a) be more protective of the prime breeding bulls and cows,
(b) improve the survival of calves,
(c) reduce the over-winter losses of calves to natural predators or winter conditions,
(d) improve reproduction, and
e) adjust the age structures of males and females in order to maintain a high percentage of middle-aged cows and bulls in the population
Understandably, traditional antlerless sentiments have not and will not provide these management objectives. Rather than single-sex orientation, a harvest strategy must be designed that addresses maintenance of herd integrity since a socially well-balanced herd is characterized by a high proportion of middle-aged cows, a good supply of prime breeding bulls, and high calf yields. This herd, when managed, will provide the hunting and non-hunting public optimal use and benefits.
Managing Moose Herds
In order to achieve these management objectives, management strategies must therefore address the need to protect the breeding stock and direct human use on the non-breeding and more socially immature male and female segments of the population. It is therefore necessary to exert high hunting pressure on yearlings (males and females) and moderate pressures only on mature females (cows). By such harvesting practices, most of the females in the population will be in the best reproductive age category (4 to 9 years). With more productive cows in the population, and social balance restored, population increases can be expected.
Managing moose herds for optimum sustained harvests is best accomplished by having more vigorous animals (of medium age 4 to 9 years) comprise the majority of the population. This mix of animals in the herd should maintain a proper social balance thereby ensuring good production. Although older cows do produce calves until they die of old age, the calves they produce are less likely to survive than those from a younger female because of low milk production and thus poor nutrition of the calf. Old cows produce fewer twins also. The hunt of cow moose, under some controlled program or strategy is necessary then to maintain optimal breeding and social conditions in a managed herd of moose.
Scandinavian countries, Sweden in particular, learned years ago that harvest of non-breeders or socially immature animals (young cows and calves of both sexes) was the best strategy to raise the number of yearly borncalves and thereby increase herd numbers, except of course, for an all-out effort in enhancement of game habits.
The management options are obvious. We must create more food through range enhancement activities (prescribed burning, silvicultural treatment of forest stands) and better distribute the available food and range to those age and social classes of moose, that potentially being the better breeders, will promise both optimum numbers of moose and social well-being in the population. In British Columbia, the second alternative is the manager’s best option simply because the lack of land tenure does not sanction habitat enhancement programs for wildlife and public benefits.
Many critics who are well-meaning but lacking in factual data often object to antlerless hunts simply because “there used to be more moose in the ‘ole days’ “. No one disputes this claim, in the Central Interior plateau of British Columbia, habitats have undergone successional growth since the “explosion” of moose numbers in the early and mid-years of the century. Mans’ developmental activities (hydro projects, urbanization, intensive forestry, agricultural and pastoral pursuits) have largely eroded much of the traditional winter ranges that are the mainstay of healthy and abundant moose populations. Populations have declined as a result and will continue to do so if management strategies are not adjusted to protect the breeding stock. Antlerless seasons if closed are seen to further compound the problem. A socially well-balanced moose herd is a productive herd, and when managed as such, this ‘herd’ promises optimum uses and benefits to both hunter and non-hunter alike.
We believe it better to have fair numbers of moose all the time than to have phenomenal numbers only a part of the time. Cows and calves (young-of-the-year) are moose too, and as such must be considered as integral parts of the moose resource. They must be managed as well as bulls, if the Ministry is to effectively and properly manage the moose resource for public benefit. The question then should not be phrased, “Why do we harvest cow moose?” but, “Why Not Harvest Cow Moose?” (End article)
In closing, I hope by reproducing this 1980’s brochure, which has become prophetic with regard to our provinces moose populations, has made you more aware of wildlife in BC. Thanks Ken for writing this article over 30 years ago.
Links & References:
- K.N. Child 1981. Why Shoot Cow Moose? B.C. Ministry of Environment, Prince George, BC. Multilith.
- Further reading: “Silent Spring” Rachel Carson, 1962, Houghton Mifflin Co.
- “Moose in Manitoba” (2019) by Dr. Vince Crichton – 4 x 15 minute videos
- Summary Licensed (moose) Harvest in 1987 = 13,463 and 2014 = 5773 from “Provincial Population & Harvest Estimates of Moose in BC” Gerald W. Kuzyk, Ministry of Forests (2016) Page 8
… extinction is a routine and integral part of what makes up today’s biodiversity. It has always been around. However, the level of extinction that we are currently experiencing – extinction associated with our activities locally and globally – is on an entirely different scale.”
~ John Spicer,
“Biodiversity – Beginners Guide” Oneworld, 2006
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