4th moose cull underway in Cape Breton Highlands

A controversial moose cull in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park appears to be having the desired effect. A fourth annual cull began this week on North Mountain with the goal of helping restore the park's boreal forest.

Early results suggest the cull is having the desired effect on forest regeneration

A Parks Canada-sanctioned moose cull is underway in a 20-square-kilometre section of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. (CBC)

There are signs that a controversial moose cull in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park is having the desired effect, according to Parks Canada.

A fourth annual cull began this week on a 20-square-kilometre section of North Mountain.

"The best way to gauge the impact is through what happens to the vegetation," said Rob Howey, resource conservation manager for Parks Canada.

The cull is part of the agency's Bring Back the Boreal pilot project, which launched in 2014 to experiment with techniques for restoring the park's boreal forest to its natural state.

2 moose per square kilometre

As of the last survey in 2015, it was estimated there were about 1,800 moose in the park — about two per square kilometre. In recent decades, those moose have played a role in reducing former stands of fir and spruce to grasslands.

"What we're trying to do is give the area a chance to breathe, give a chance for those young trees to grow up past the browse line and allow the forest to come back," said Howey.

Mi'kmaq hunters have harvested 122 moose from North Mountain over the past three years of the cull.

There are early indications the strategy is working, Howey told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Thursday.

"We've actually seen some statistically significant decrease in browse twigs on North Mountain," he said.

"To put that in perspective, when we started the project, over 50 per cent of the trees were significantly browsed. And now we're almost up to plots showing 90 per cent or better unbrowsed. So the trees are getting a chance to grow."

Current cull may not be the last

This is the final year of the pilot project. But given that it will take years for the forest to recover, Howey doesn't rule out future culls.

"No decisions have been made past this year," he said. "We're going to look at all the options."

Members of the Friends of Cape Breton Moose hand out flyers on the Cabot Trail in 2016. (Submitted)

The culls have sparked demonstrations in past years, with protesters blocking part of the Cabot Trail leading into the park and confronting hunters.

This year's harvest began Wednesday and could run until Dec. 3. There have been no protests so far, said Howey.

He said Parks Canada has been having positive discussions with local communities and those will continue after the project comes to an end.

"We're going to work together with communities, stakeholders, partners to determine the best course of action moving forward, and how we're going to help bring that forest back."

About the Author

Holly Conners

Reporter

Holly Conners is a reporter and current affairs producer who has been with CBC Cape Breton since 1998. Contact her at holly.conners@cbc.ca.

With files from Information Morning Cape Breton