Moose population deemed too high for forest regeneration in Cape Breton Highlands

The overabundance of moose in Cape Breton Highlands National Park is threatening the re-growth of boreal forest coverage in the region.

As the animals feed on seedlings and young trees, satellite imagery shows that around 11 percent of the park is now grasslands.

Without any natural predators and an abundance of food, the park’s moose population has grown rapidly in the past two decades. In the early 2000s, it reached an all-time high of 8,000. Right now, it’s around 1,800, which is still much bigger than the ideal number, according to conservation officers.

Forest coverage has been at risk ever since the 1970s when a spruce budworm outbreak destroyed 90 percent of the boreal forest. The young trees and shrubs that grew in its place have been the perfect food for moose.

Although last year’s harsh winter lowered the number of moose significantly, conservation officers briefly considered re-introducing wolves into the park to act as a natural predator for the moose.

This idea was quickly rejected. Parks Canada believed that without neighbouring packs, the wolves wouldn’t be able to reproduce, and that local residents might fear the possibility of attacks. Additionally, the Cape Breton Highlands National Park is simply too small for the roaming animals.

Instead, Parks Canada will continue it’s four-year plan to restore the forest in three specific areas of the park. The plan includes a two-week hunt to take place later this month, a fenced in test enclosure that’s protected from moose, as well as an organized burn to encourage forest regeneration.

As Parks Canada prepares for the cull, protesters have stormed the park. They say the moose population has already declined and there isn’t any need for the hunt.

“Everybody feels the same way – the moose just aren’t there,” said hunting guide Dennis Day in an interview with the Cape Breton Post. “Nobody sees them in the yard anymore. People that commute back and forth to Pleasant Bay were saying they don’t see [moose], they don’t seem them on the road.”

Conservation officers believe that the hunt, which will eliminate 90 per ent of the population in a 20-square-kilometer zone, is necessary for the well-being of the park.