The Current

Is it time to ban the hunt on moose calves?

Ontario conservationists are calling for a ban on moose calf hunting because of a dramatic decline in their numbers. The Current hears from both sides of the issue and looks into why this iconic Canadian animal is under threat.
What do you think? Is it time to ban the hunt on moose calves? Or do we need other reforms? (Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth, AP Photo)

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Conservationists and First Nations alike have been sounding the alarm for years on the steep decline in the moose population in northern Ontario.

And now a recent report by Ontario's environment commissioner confirms the moose population has dropped 20 per cent over the past decade.

One reaction to address the decline has been a call for a ban on hunting moose calves in Ontario.

Dave Pearce from the Wildlands League — a conservation group that's calling for the ban — says in the last three years the decline of the moose population has actually been accelerated.

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"So most of that decline has happened really recently. And in some places of the [Ontario] province it's more than a 60 per cent decline," Pearce tells The Current's guest host Kelly Crowe.

Deputy Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Derek Fox says the decline in moose populations in northern Ontario is a threat to his people's health and well-being. (Derek Fox/Facebook)

In the late 80s, the Ministry of Natural Resources issued a selective harvest system where a hunter with a licence could be placed in a lottery to be awarded a tag — giving permission to shoot a bull or cow. 

Pearce says the calf hunting started as a consolation prize if a hunter wasn't awarded a tag for that year.

This licensing system has been around for decades and Pearce explains that access to the forests over time and people getting better at hunting calves have contributed to the current decline we see today.

"The techniques are more improved. There's high-tech ways of hunting animals now. They even have moose decoys that allow maybe a calf to come out thinking it's a mama moose."

Pearce attributes other contributing factors to the decline such as climate change and parasites carried in the white-tailed deer populations which is fatal to moose.

"But this [ban] is … a simple fix that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry could do immediately while other impacts are being addressed." 

Senior biologist Mark Ryckman of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters does not support eliminating the hunting of calves with a ban saying it will not fix a decline that has been happening over a long period of time.

"I have a concern with anybody who suggests removing that, eliminating that important aspect of our hunting heritage to do something that won't actually solve the moose problem," Ryckman tells Crowe. 
Banning the hunting of moose calves is a Band-Aid solution, says hunter and senior wildlife biologist Mark Ryckman. (Peninsula Clarion, M. Scott Moon, AP Photo)

"We have much greater issues that we need to be concerned with and I'm not willing to accept a token gesture by the government that we know will not reverse, or even stabilize any of these moose population declines." 

According to a report by Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Dianne Saxe, there are 98,000 licensed moose hunters in Ontario for an estimated moose population around 92,300 — "that's more hunters than moose," says Crowe.

Ryckman argues it's incorrect to say there are more hunters than moose and points to the fact the numbers indicate more licences being sold in Ontario.

"There are not that many active moose hunters in the province. There are only about [70,000] to 75,000."

He adds the vast majority of moose hunters with a licence have absolutely no desire to harvest a calf but for those that do it's the only opportunity to go "in the bush and reconnect with nature."

Ryckman wants to see an investment in monitoring, assessment and research to determine all the factors that are impacting the moose population — and ways to fix it.

"We really need to double down."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post — including a look at the steep decline of moose population of up to 70 per cent in the past decade.

This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino, Samira Mohyeddin and Ashley Mak.