Moose Monitoring Project
Black River First Nation, with generous support from Manitoba Hydro, began a moose stewardship program in 2020. This was in response to a sudden decline in the moose population in Eastern Manitoba, specifically Game Hunting Area 26. The moose population dropped from 1,668 moose in 2000 to a low of 936 in 2016. (Manitoba Agriculture and Sustainable Development data)
BRGFA Hunting and Wildlife Committee Chair, Bob Austman, served as the Project Assistant for the 2022 study. He has provided a copy of this report for everyone to review. The report is provided below, it is also available as a PDF, which you can download to your computer by clicking here: MANITOBA HYDRO MOOSE STEWARDSHIP CONSERVATION PROGRAM CONSERVATION PROGRAM FINAL REPORT 2022
MANITOBA HYDRO MOOSE STEWARDSHIP CONSERVATION PROGRAM
The project coordinators recruited local trappers to participate in the field work. 21 cameras were placed throughout game hunting area and were monitored during all 4 seasons.
Interviews were conducted with staff from Manitoba Agriculture and Sustainable Development (Eastern Region Natural Resource Officers) to gain their perspective on population status, threats to the population, and observations of illegal hunting activity.
Interviews were conducted with the owner of a large meat processing plant to determine the number of moose brought in for processing, which in turn can help determine the level of hunting pressure exerted on the population.
Summary reports of these interviews can be found in the Appendices section of this report.
OVERVIEW OF GAME HUNTING AREA 26:
The study took place within Game Hunting Area 26 (GHA 26) on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, from the Winnipeg River north to the Manigotagan River, and from the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg to the Ontario border.
Game Hunting Area 26 lies within the Boreal Forest, with vast stands of coniferous trees (White Spruce, Black Spruce, Tamarac, and Jack Pine) and deciduous trees (Trembling Aspen or “White Poplar”, Black Poplar, Birch, Green Ash). Shrub species such as Dogwood, Willow, and Alder provide food and cover for a variety of birds and mammals that inhabit the area.
Game Hunting Area 26 ranges in elevation from lowland bogs to upland ridges of deep organic soils. Exposed rock outcrops composed of granite and basaltic extrusions are common throughout the area. Ground vegetation includes mosses, lichens, Labrador Tea, blueberry, and a variety of sedge grasses.
The area is rich in biodiversity. Large mammals found in GHA 26 include Moose, Black Bear, Timber Wolves, Coyotes, and White-tailed Deer. Small furbearing mammals include Pine Marten, Fisher, Lynx, Red Squirrel, Snowshoe Hare, and River Otters. A variety of smaller mammals such as Red Backed Voles and field mice provide food for predators. A number of bird species inhabit the area such as Ravens, Turkey Vultures, Whiskey Jacks, or “Canada Jays’, Kingfishers, Blue Jays, Crows, and a variety of songbirds.
PURPOSE OF THE MONITORING PROGRAM:
Black River First Nation, with generous support from Manitoba Hydro, began a moose stewardship program in 2020. This was in response to a sudden decline in the moose population in Eastern Manitoba, specifically Game Hunting Area 26. The moose population dropped from 1,668 moose in 2000 to a low of 936 in 2016. (Manitoba Agriculture and Sustainable Development data).
There are many complex reasons for this decline, such as:
Parasites such as Brainworm, which is transmitted to moose from the White-tailed Deer population. This parasite does not harm the White-Tailed Deer, but is fatal to Moose and Caribou. Other parasites include Winter Ticks and Liver Flukes. While these parasites are found in Moose in GHA 26, the impact on the mortality of Moose is unknown.
Predation from predators such as Black Bears and Timber Wolves. The main source of predation on Moose in GHA 26 is wolves. Moose calves are particularly prone to predation, especially in their first year of life. Poor calf ‘recruitment’ into the population can keep populations from recovering. (Status Report for the Moose Population in Game Hunting Area 26, June 207, Manitoba Model Forest, author Dr. Brian Kotak) Wolf populations have increased due to reduced trapping pressure caused by low prices for pelts and a reduction in demand for wild fur.
Decreased forest harvesting. Generally speaking, harvesting the forest brings about forest renewal and creates a much younger stand of trees and shrubs. This young, regenerating forest provides the best habitat for Moose. While older stands of trees in the Boreal Forest provide thermal cover, or protection from extreme cold and high winds, it is the younger forest that provides the best forage for ungulates. On recent cutovers, the high-quality nutrition found in young shrubs and saplings results in more cow moose giving birth to twin calves.
Illegal hunting: Illegal hunting involves shooting Moose out of season, shooting more than one animal, shooting females in a” Bulls Only Area”, night hunting using spotlights, hunting in closed areas, or hunting in order to sell the meat. The number of Moose harvested illegally is not known. Our monitoring work involved meeting with enforcement staff in the Eastern Region. A survey of perceived risks to the Moose population was administered to the staff, and illegal hunting was noted to be the greatest risk to the Moose population in GHA 26 (see survey in appendix). At this point there is no licensed hunting season in GHA 26. Special hunting areas are set aside in to satisfy the constitutional right for Indigenous people to hunt moose in GHA 26.
Accidental deaths. Most accidental deaths in the moose population is from vehicle collisions, especially at dawn and dusk when they are most active, and visibility is reduced.
Climate Change. The impact of climate change on the moose population is difficult to predict. Hotter, drier summers may cause wetlands to dry up, decreasing the quantity and quality of summer browse. Climate models also predict a greater frequency and intensity of forest fires. In the short term, this may improve the quality and quantity of browse. Long periods of extreme cold and heavy snow may make it more difficult for Moose because they may spend more energy searching for food than what they gain in caloric energy.
LAND USE AND THE IMPACT ON THE MOOSE POPULATION IN GHA 26.
Industrial land use in GHA 26 includes:
Mineral exploration: Some of the minerals being sought after in the area include gold, nickel, silica sand, and lithium. Some exploratory work in the area has the potential to disturb the habitat for Moose and other species.
Forestry. Industrial forest harvesting ceased in 2012 when Tembec Industries closed the paper mill. Since then, there has been very little forest harvesting, limited generally to firewood harvesting. The increasing age of the forest is one of many factors that has had a negative impact on the moose population.
Tourism and Cottage Development. There are relatively few cottage developments in GHA 26, with little or no impact on the moose population.
Agriculture. There is very little farmland in GHA 26, concentrated mostly in the extreme southern fringe. Moose are browsers, not grazers, and generally do not feed on agricultural crops in GHA 26. (However, in other jurisdictions such as southern Saskatchewan, the rising population in that region has caused problems for farmers)
In general, the low human population density and relatively light level of resource development has benefitted the Moose population. However, the vast size of the area, and the low number of Natural Resource Officers, make it difficult to patrol the area effectively. This creates optimal conditions for those who poach moose illegally.
Finally, we hope the information gleaned from our monitoring program can assist Wildlife Biologists with the complex task of managing this magnificent species.
FIRST NATIONS INVOLVEMENT IN THE MONITORING PROGRAM
The monitoring program would not have been possible without the assistance of local trappers from Black River First Nation. The detailed knowledge they have of the area, and their ability to work in adverse conditions, allowed us to carry out the study year-round. Of special note was the involvement of youth from the ‘Jordan’s Principle Land Based Program’.
Students were taken along when retrieving images from the trail cameras. Along the route, Elders and Project Assistant Bob Austman taught lessons of tree identification, wildlife biology, and basic ecology. The Land Based Program provide all terrain vehicles to assist with travel in the remote parts of GHA 26. The outings supplemented the knowledge and skills the youth were learning under the Land Based Education Program.
MOOSE HARVEST AND IMPACT ON POPULATION:
First Nations communities relied on wild game as a source of nutritious food for millennia. However, today, wild game provides supplemental protein, rather than a main source of food. Few if any community members in GHA 26 survive by subsistence hunting.
Interviews with a local meat processing plant determined that only 50 moose per year are brought in by hunters, including rights-based hunters. This represents only about 5% of the moose population in GHA 26. However, it is impossible to determine the number of moose that are taken illegally. Moose taken illegally are usually processed covertly at hidden locations.
There is no season at this time for licensed hunters to harvest moose. Nor are there any plans to re-open the season any time soon until the population reaches the goal of between 1,600 and 2,000 (Status Report for the Moose Population in Game Hunting Area 26 – Committee for Cooperative Moose Management). As of the latest aerial survey completed by Manitoba Agriculture and Sustainable Development in 2016, there is an estimated population of 936 (+ or – 15.1% 795-1076 moose)
GENERAL OBSERVATIONS DRAWN FROM TRAIL CAMERA SURVEILLANCE:
Trail camera images collected in Year 3 of the Moose Monitoring Project show us that:
Moose have fairly well-defined preferences for certain types of habitats: riparian zones, wetlands and bogs (summer habitat) as well as dense stands of mature conifers and poplars (winter habitat).
A mix of bulls, cows, and calves were observed, indicating that there is recruitment into the population (although we have no data on the survival of these calves)
Both predator and prey species were observed. We can be certain that the food web is functioning as it should
There were no widespread habitat disturbances noted in the observation area (i.e., no vast forest fires, windthrown trees from severe weather, and no serious insect infestations i.e., Spruce Budworm)
No widespread winter kill of any species was observed
Throughout the study area, normal signs of animal life including tracks, trails, rubs, markings, droppings, and signs of browse were observed. These observations demonstrate that the ecosystem is functioning in a normal manner.
No signs of negative impact from human activity were observed in the study area i.e., no new roads, excavation sites, mineral exploration, bush clearing, etc.
Moose are important to First Nations people. Moose meat has been an important part of their diet for centuries. Moose also have spiritual and medicinal value. It’s the notion that simply knowing that moose are still on the land, part of the web of life, that sustains them as well.
The Manitoba Hydro Moose Stewardship Conservation Program has been an extremely valuable asset to the community as it has helped youth, Elders, and trappers reconnect with the land and re-kindle their appreciation of the diversity of all forms of life including the largest and perhaps most majestic species of all – the moose.