Evan Saugstad: Momma moose mania

saugstad

Anyone want to go shoot a momma moose and her babies? I don’t and never have, but that’s my own personal choice. I’m not opposed to it; I just haven’t done it, and don’t feel the need to.

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Still, much has been made of the B.C. government’s decision to manage caribou by shooting cow moose and their calves on or near some of our caribou ranges. Nothing new, and all being done in the name of science, the NDP government says. We’re just continuing what Liberal governments did for years. Others say it’s all about political optics, while others say it’s morally reprehensible to shoot females of any species.

The real question is: Do we really need to kill more moose to have more caribou? The science behind this management decision is sketchy at best.

Government biologists say moose are abundant in the Kootenay and Parsnip River areas, where it’s proposed momma moose and their calves are to be culled by increasing hunting limits. They say the moose abundance can be attributed to an artificial increase in foraging caused by forest harvesting. That may be partially true, but moose have been living in these areas since they migrated south from Yukon over the past couple of centuries. They were there before industrial forest harvesting began.

The theory is that if one removes a species that wolves enjoy eating, the wolves will leave these areas and caribou will then be on the road to recovery. The problem is this theory isn’t based on real science. It’s simply theory being put into action under the guise of caribou management.

Most biologists and hunters understand that wolves eat more than just moose. Wolves will eat most anything with a beating heart, and in the absence of that, any other flesh they find. Wolves eat other prey species that live in these same places: elk, deer, mountain goats, beaver, rabbits, mice, birds.

Science will unequivocally say that wolves can survive without eating moose if there are other adequate sources of food. Science will also say wolf populations may be lower where moose populations are also low, but wolves will still be there. Science will also say that when wolves do encounter a caribou in their travels, they will certainly try to capture them for dinner.

It’s a bit odd this same management decision isn’t being proposed for the rest of the province, where moose and timber harvesting also overlap caribou ranges. But the political science supporting this management decision is two-fold.

First, it gets the anti-wolf-cull lobby off the NDP’s back, and reduces the cost of the program as government currently pays. It will then transfer the blame, costs, and responsibility to licensed and subsistence hunters.

As to shooting female ungulates, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s been done for centuries. Cows are just as good eating as the bulls.

The problem in this case is that moose populations across much of B.C. are at incredibly low numbers, and the people who rely them for dinner would like to see many more on the landscape than there are now.

Science says the best and quickest way to increase populations is to protect mommas and their babies, including predator control. You can take this statement to the bank; it’s based in reality and science. Rid mommas from the landscape and your populations will decline. Also pure science.

Many biologists who study wolves and ungulates and their relationships will agree that eliminating moose from the landscape is not the solution to our caribou dilemma. Either all predators or all prey species would need to be managed, not just moose. Biologists will also say that if forest harvesting continues in these areas, moose will keep coming back, other ungulates will use these new forests, and wolves will remain present.

Nothing new here, just the cycle of life of wolves and their prey. So, why the fuss?

As with much of the current and ongoing saga around B.C.’s caribou management, it’s complicated and, as complex stories go, not easy to explain in the 15 seconds it gets allotted in these days of pandemics and riots. The story is further complicated as our governments choose to do much of their work in silence, and are never fully forthcoming as to what’s being planned.

Mistrust of government’s decisions regarding caribou management in the South Peace process still exists. Memories of secret government negotiations and decisions that stifle industry and leave families without income do not pass quickly.

Although government does not yet appear willing to close vast areas of working forests in the Kootenay or Prince George areas to the same degree as the South Peace, many believe it’s the next step in their evolution of caribou management.

Many believe that in the run up to our next provincial election, the NDP government will scale back predator control programs to satisfy it supporters, and will need something to point to in terms of what’s being done for caribou.

In the back of people’s minds is the potential to expand the momma moose cull to B.C.’s many other caribou ranges. Not easily done or sold, as politically this is a problem. Many indigenous peoples rely on moose for sustenance and wish to see more, not less.

It’s hard to believe in this day and age that citizens are actively campaigning for the protection of momma moose until populations recover to sustainable levels at the same time the government is actively campaigning for their extirpation.

Despite it all, there is a simple flat earth solution.

More industry, more people working, more taxes collected to keep those predator control programs going, and more ungulates for all. It’s worked before and would work again.

Evan Saugstad is a former mayor of Chetwynd, and lives in Fort St. John.

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