Thunder Bay, Ontario — Hunters are not happy with plans to shorten the moose season in northern Ontario.
In response to a declining moose herd, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has proposed creating a two-week hunting season this fall in which both adult and calves could be killed.
After that two-week period, only adults could be killed during the open season. And then next year, in 2016, MNR is proposing starting moose-hunting seasons a week later, which would shorten the seasons by a week.
“Ontario’s focus is improving calf recruitment,” Patrick Hubert, an MNR senior wildlife biologist, said in an email response to calls by Outdoor News seeking comment. “This is a strategy to reduce calf harvest while still maintaining hunting opportunity within Ontario’s current selective harvest system.”
Asked about the proposed shortened season in 2016, Hubert responded, “Ontario currently has long hunting seasons across the northern part of the province. Hunters have consistently told MNR over time that if changes are needed to address moose population concerns, shortening of the hunting season is one preferred harvest-management strategy. Delaying moose-hunting season by one week across the more accessible parts of northern Ontario pushes the beginning of the gun-hunting season for moose away from the important breeding period in late September and early October.”
The plans have not been well received by some hunters.
“Our initial reaction is mixed at best,” said Mark Ryckman, senior wildlife biologist for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. “We are pleased that the province is committed to at least addressing the declining moose population. But we do have problems with the details of the proposal.”
Ryckman said shortening the calf season to two weeks is too abrupt, and, perhaps, unnecessary.
“We recommend a phased approach,” he said. “Really what we mean by that is they wouldn’t have to take extreme measures initially. They could go with a four-week calf harvest. Instead of going all of the way in the first step, phase it in so hunters are affected only as much as required.”
Ryckman acknowledged that moose populations would benefit from reductions in calf harvest, but he said it’s unlikely that calf harvest by hunters is the cause across the board, even if it is contributing in some units.
Ryckman said he is concerned that shortening a gun season that is 10 weeks to two weeks for calves could cause serious hunter density issues and lead to poor hunt quality, not to mention being difficult for hunters to work into their personal and professional schedules.
“So all of the suddenly you have tens of thousands of hunters that don’t have an adult moose tag restricted to a two-week period,” Ryckman said.
Asked about that prospect, Hubert responded, “It’s possible, but the majority of northern Ontario moose hunters indicate they prefer to hunt the first week to 10 days of the moose gun season. With the proposed calf season, most hunters will have to choose between hunting at the beginning of the moose gun season, which is closer to the rut, or waiting until the two-week calf season is open.
“The success of any harvest-management strategy depends in part on hunter behavior in response. If hunters respond by focusing their hunting activity during the calf-hunting period and calf harvest is high, additional changes may have to be considered,” he said.
Regarding the proposed shortened season in 2016, Ryckman also was critical of MNR for not using the existing tag allocation system instead to control the harvest of adult moose.
“We’re wondering why our provincial government isn’t using that system and why they feel the need to reduce the season by one week when they already have that management control,” he said. “There is no data that suggest that the timing of the first week of the gun hunt is adversely impacting moose populations. … Realistically, the reduction in calf harvest should be more than enough to benefit all moose populations. If that’s true, they really wouldn’t need to reduce harvest of adult moose at all.”
Hubert responded that adult tag allocation remains an important part of Ontario’s harvest-management system, and that the province has been able to reduce the harvest of bull moose by reducing tags.
“However, the timing of adult harvest relative to the rut can also have an impact, particularly in low-density populations,” he wrote.
And not all hunting interests are opposed to the plan.
John Kaplanis, executive director of the Northwestern Ontario Sportsmen’s Alliance, supports MNR’s proposal.
“We are happy to see the Ministry is moving forward in the direction of protecting the moose population,” Kaplanis said. “We want to maintain hunting opportunities, but at the same time, it’s more critical to maintain moose conservation. What is known about the moose population decline is that moose calf recruitment is not keeping up in order to grow the population. If we don’t do something now, what is our moose population going to look like in 10 years?”
Kaplanis said his group favored the return of a spring bear hunt, which he said should also help moose calves make it to adulthood. That strategy was not part of the proposal.
“I don’t want to say (the proposal) is the be-all, end-all for bringing back moose,” he said. “The fix for moose will take multiple approaches. We need stricter predator management. We need to enhance habitat and habitat availability and quality for moose. We also need to take a look at ourselves as hunters and see what we can do to contribute and assist in turning around the moose population.
Kaplanis disagreed with Ryckman that MNR should just use the tag allocation system to manage the population.
“The tag allocation system is only one tool,” he said. “All we can do is reduce the number of tags given to hunters. We needed to do something more.”