On any visit to Cape Breton Highlands National Park, to see a moose is a highlight.
But the proliferation of those giant, lumbering creatures has stirred up a giant controversy.
Derek Quann, a spokesman for the park, says its 1,800 moose are eating too many young evergreen trees, reducing once-dense forest to meadows.
Destruction of boreal forest habitat, says Parks Canada’s website, poses a threat to species like the American marten, the Canada lynx and rare birds and plant life.
The eastern wolf used to keep Cape Breton’s moose in check but it was wiped out in the mid-1800s.
According to a Parks Canada website, Cape Breton moose were also gone by 1930. Today’s herd is descended from 18 moose introduced in 1947-48 from Elk Island National park in Alberta.
The park’s plan to introduce a small-scale experimental Mi’kmaq hunt this year to take 40 moose in the North Mountain area, however, has been embroiled in controversy, with some locals protesting the decision. Parks Canada agreed in 2012 to give Mi’kmaq hunters the exclusive right to hunt in the park, should it be necessary, in compliance with Supreme Court of Canada rulings.
And certainly any government agency has a responsibility to follow the course set by the top court.
The hunt was supposed to begin earlier this month but was postponed when local non-native hunters protested.
To Eric LeBel’s credit, the new park superintendent met with hunters on Monday, forestalling a second protest. More meetings have been promised.
It is a good move for Parks Canada, which has been accused of being secretive despite a series of meetings about the moose problem last year.
A suggestion to reintroduce wolves, which could skew nature’s balance and lay the groundwork for other problems, has been scrapped. The park has also embarked on a planting program to try to revive the boreal forest.
But questions remain:
•Are local hunters correct when they say the herd was decimated by this year’s severe winter?
•Has the ongoing coyote bounty affected moose populations? A 2013 study in the Canadian Journal of Zoology confirmed that packs of coyotes or wolf-hybrid coyotes (Cape Breton coyotes are about eight per cent wolf) killed adult moose in four confirmed cases near Ontario’s Algonquin Park. The study said coyotes are known to attack moose calves. However, the coyote cull does not take place in the park.
Ian Avery, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters, says the moose cull should be postponed because the science behind it is flawed. His group wants a managed hunt open to hunters across the province.
Canadians have an interest in how national parks, including iconic wildlife like moose, are managed. If a species must be controlled, particularly through a cull, Parks Canada needs to be open and transparent about the scientific evidence that underpins the decision.
And if that evidence is lacking or deficient, any cull should be put on hold.