Hungry moose upsetting Gros Morne habitat

Research conducted in Gros Morne National Park suggests more moose are chowing down on vegetation, changing the landscape and species of birds that make their home in the park.

Species of birds forced out of park due to changes

Research out of Gros Morne National Park shows the moose population has eaten so much vegetation that it's changing the landscape of the park. (Photo courtesy Parks Canada)

Research conducted in GrosMorne National Park suggests more moose are chowing down on vegetation, changing the landscape and species of birds that make their home in the park.

Darroch Whitaker, with Parks Canada in Gros Morne, said the amount of vegetation being eaten by the moose population has forced some songbirds to find new areas to nest in, while there has been an increase in other kinds of birds.

Memorial University graduate student Lauren Rae, who has been conducting the research at the park, discovered the correlation.

"We know a lot about the vegetation changes the moose are causing in the park, we know that they're causing large-scale deforestation in some areas because young forests are not coming back when a mature forest died," Whitaker said.

He said the movement of different species of birds was a good way to measure the level of impact the moose population has had on wildlife in the park.

"Birds are a really good group to look at for this kind of information because there's so many species out there. We have over 100 species of birds that breed at Gros Morne, and every one of those particular species has their own habitat needs. So if you look across a whole community of birds you can often see a lot of different ways the birds are going to be responding to this."

The vegetation eaten by moose in Gros Morne has changed the species of birds who are able to live in the park. (John Rieti/CBC)

According to Whitaker, the landscape of the park is changing and a number of what he calls "moose meadows" are replacing once-forested areas.

Hope hunting will help

Gros Morne is in its third moose-hunting season.

Whitaker said that decision was made in an attempt to decrease the number of moose in the park, thus curbing the level of deforestation and changing of wildlife.

"We're charged with managing ecological integrity of parks, and so we undertook a long process of public consultation that eventually led us to opening up the park to a moose harvest," he said.

"Some of the park on the more remote areas have been open for about two or three weeks now, and most of the rest of the park is going to open to moose hunting just after Thanksgiving weekend. So next Tuesday morning most of the rest of the park will be open to hunters."

According to Whitaker, there is still a strong likelihood that the damaged areas will repair themselves if the moose population is reduced.

"We know that there's a lot of these sites that's been damaged by moose. They can still recover. The young trees are still there, they're just getting eaten down each year, and so we're hoping that just by reducing the number of moose on the landscape these sites will recover."

Whitaker said if park staff don't see an improvement in the changing landscape from moose hunting, they will consider other measures, including re-planting trees and other kinds of restoration.

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