When a wildlife agency prepares to do anything management-related to a given species, protestors typically turn out to contest the decision. Any change in management practices from a governmental/biological agency usually results in some amount of disagreement. What makes a Canadian-proposed moose cull so unique compared to other protests is that hunters, not anti-hunters, are the ones showing up and speaking out.
Parks Canada recently moved to cull moose from Cape Breton Highlands National Park, located on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. The experimental cull was aimed at lessening the moose population and allowing vegetation to regenerate on the park’s North Mountain. The area was hard-hit by the spruce budworm; as plants try to regrow from the insects’ damage, the moose are eating the young saplings and preventing new growth.
According to CBC News, the hunt would take place on a 20-square-kilometer tract. Hunting is not typically allowed in the national park, but the cull was slated to last two seasons and take a quota of 40 animals.
Only native Mi’kmaq hunters are able to participate. The land is native-held and was reportedly never ceded to Canada, giving the Mi’kmaq first rights to the wildlife there.
The hunt was scheduled for Wednesday, but as the hunters made their way into the woods, 30 protestors — ”hunters, hunting guides, and concerned citizens,” according to a CBC News quote of Dennis Day, a local hunter and hunting guide — walked into the woods to face them. Authorities had given a few protestors permission to approach the hunters and express their views, but after advancing a few yards the rest of the group moved forward to join them.
The clash of opinions was reportedly heated, but did not involve any physical violence. The hunt was stopped; law enforcement officers patrolled the area throughout the morning as a precaution.
The moose on North Mountain were labeled as “hyper-abundant,” a term used for a population that has went beyond the upper limit of a habitat’s ability to support it. The animals were not only eating the young saplings that attempted to grow back, but incidentally eating themselves and various bird species out of house and home.
The conflict came from hunters and other groups who claim the winter of 2014-15 did the cull’s job for it. Day said he has hardly seen any moose in their previous haunts following the tough winter.
The Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers & Hunters said the moose could be managed in a more renewable fashion, and has accused the wildlife agency of not consulting the public as it should have prior to making its decision.
In a statement released via social media, the federation said: “No one listened and no one wanted to participate in consultation. Parks Canada ignored the warnings, and now wishes to conduct a moose cull that will see a 90 percent reduction of moose within the park boundaries over the next decade.
“This elimination of moose will be used to test the theory that any remaining moose and moose from nearby areas will not infiltrate the 20 [square kilometer] test area once the first resident moose are killed and removed. This science and [p]lan are flawed, and just as important is the fact it is all being done without proper consultation with the people of Nova Scotia.”
The strategy of putting hunting pressure on animals to reduce and repel them has been used by other agencies in similar circumstances, most notably by cities and townships allowing urban bowhunting for white-tailed deer. When an area ceases to be a sanctuary zone, the surviving animals become leery of staying there.
Whether it would or will work in Cape Breton remains to be seen: The hunt has been postponed to allow for further input, but has not been scrapped entirely by Parks Canada. The agency was scheduled to meet with the Mi’kmaq’s representative group, the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources, to discuss the cull ahead of a decision.
“We will review our procedures and protocol and the Mi’kmaq will want to do the same,” Derek Quann, the national park’s resource conservation manager, told The Chronicle Herald. “We’ve put measures in place but we can’t control the uncontrollable as far as what people will do. But this wasn’t something unforeseen.”
For the Mi’kmaq, the moose has been a staple of native life since before European contact. For the northern tribe, it was the equivalent of the Plains Indians’ use of the buffalo: every piece of the animal was used, from the skin for clothing, to tendons for cordage, to bones for tools, to the actual eating of the meat. The hunt was considered a village affair: Men and older boys would go out to hunt, working the moose back toward camp before killing it so the women would have a shorter distance to drag it after it died. Young boys became men in the sight of the elders by killing their first moose.
Even the dogs participated. The Mi’kmaq wouldn’t feed them for two days prior to the hunt to make them more ferocious when they encountered the moose. They helped drive and bring down the game, and the resulting gut pile was their reward.
Editor’s note: Some minor changes were made to the Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers & Hunters’ quoted statement for capitalization and punctuation, but the message of the statement was not affected.
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