Gros Morne National Park's free flights for moose hunters comes under fire

Some people are upset the park spent $130,000 to fly hunters to otherwise inaccessible areas in order to kill moose.
50 hunters, plus assistants, were flown on daytrips to hunt moose in remote areas of Gros Morne National Park. (CBC)

A pilot project in Gros Morne National Park, that saw the park spend $130,000 to fly hunters in by helicopter to kill moose in remote areas, is drawing criticism.

"This is an expensive, expensive proposition," George Feltham of Eastport, who did not participate in the hunt, told The Central Morning Show.

During the park's 2015-16 hunting season, that ended on Feb. 7, 50 hunters were selected from a pool of 200 applicants. The hunters were each allowed to bring along an assistant, and the teams of two were flown into otherwise inaccessible areas on certain mornings, and flown back out again in the evening along with the animals they killed.

"We have outfitters in this province that's probably equipped to do that. Yet they're taking tax dollars, that… you contribute and I contribute, and paying for someone to go moose hunting," said Feltham.

As of spring 2015, there were about 3,400 moose in the park, about a 30 per cent drop since hunting first began in Gros Morne.

Deforestation defence

The park said helicopters are the only way to target key areas where moose are damaging the vegetation.

"We've got lots of little nooks and crannies that are kind of tucked away, given the size of the park, that really aren't accessible to hunters," said Tom Knight, the acting manager of resource conservation with the park.

Knight said these areas, mainly small valleys in the highlands, have very high moose densities.

"A lot of these valleys have had a lot of forest damage, because it seems like the moose kind of congregate there in the winter."

46 moose were removed via helicopter this hunting season.

"We've achieved our objectives," said Knight.

The park will now spend the rest of the winter evaluating the impact of the hunt, before deciding whether to offer such flights again.

Balancing act

Gros Morne National Park has allowed moose hunting since 2011, to combat deforestation by the invasive species.

Tom Knight says the helicopter pilot project will now be reviewed to assess its impact on remote areas. (CBC)

Since then, Knight said between 2,500 to 3,000 animals have been removed from the park overall — about a 30 per cent drop in the overall moose population.

"We started at extremely high densities," said Knight, adding the park would like to continue to see the number of moose decline, and the forest bounce back.

"In areas where we see that regeneration happening, we know we've reached a density of moose that's probably okay. We've got healthy moose, and a healthy forest. So we're trying to get to that balance."