In addition retired MNR forester Ron Waito’s comments on the decline of moose populations here in the Northwest (Moose Decline Follows
That of Forest Industry — CJ, April 21), I would like to add a little more detail on the management of our forests over the last four decades.
I am a retired MNR resource technician and for the last 30 years to the present have been witness and part of the changes in MNR strategies in forest management.
From the time I first started with the MNR in May of 1974 I have seen forest management plans emerge from token basic tree planting projects to management plans with very intensive strategies.
In the early days not every cutover was treated and regenerated to the standards we have today. The result of that was some very mixed stands made up with pine or spruce species plus a good mix of birch poplar, maple, willows and alders, brush species which are conducive to good moose habitat. The downside to these mixed stands is it does not bode well for wood supply to pulp and paper mills or sawmills as the main species used in these mills are jackpine and spruce.
Over the decades as more money was allocated to forest management the majority of strategies implemented were geared to regenerate future wood supply to these softwood mills and, in doing so, the intensity of aerial application of herbicides has also increased. The vast majority of forests harvested are now sprayed to eliminate hardwood species which make up the food supply of our moose populations.
Now, it goes without saying if you remove a food supply to any species that species will be stressed and numbers will decline. It is also a fact that as we change the forest composition from mixed stands to more pure stands of jackpine and spruce the habitat for moose will also decline.
The other factor that enters into the picture is the size of the cut areas. Fifteen to 20 years ago most cut areas were cut in block patterns with maximum cut areas of approximately 250-300 acres. You would cut a block and leave a block and return to harvest the “leave” blocks 10 to 15 year later. In doing this, localized moose populations were not subject to vast clear cuts which we see today.
The strategy of today is called “fire emulation” or, in simple terms, cutting the forests in such a way it imitates what a forest fire would do. Many of today’s cut areas are in the thousands of acres in size. In some areas these massive cut areas are joined to other massive cut areas within a year or two of being cut. So what are the end results?
1. Massive clear cuts with little or no shelter for moose from severe winters and hunting pressures.
2. Massive reductions in their food sources.
Forest fires do not apply herbicides to kill of broadleaf plants and trees which is the source of food for moose. Forest fires do not leave a few scattered token trees per hectare to make up habitat for moose, birds and other wildlife. Generally, forest fires are very erratic in their spread and the species they consume. A forest consumed by fire will regenerate a very productive moose habitat. Most cut areas, if left unattended, will also produce good moose habitat or at least to what its former state was.
Mr. Waito is correct in his assumption that the less we cut the less moose habitat will be created. But when we start to meddle or manipulate the natural processes in forest regeneration, the less diversity we have within these harvested areas which is compounded with the reduction in forest harvesting.
To anybody who has worked in the forest industry, especially in the regeneration of the forests, it is very obvious that reforestation practices are geared to wood supplies for the mills that drive our economy, not towards moose management.
If you remove the food source of the moose population and also drastically reduce its the shelter it needs to survive hunting and severe winters, it does not take a lot of science to see why moose are on the decline. Hunting, climate change, disease, etc., all contribute to reductions in populations, but with less and less good habitat for moose to survive in, the future does not look good for moose as we have seen in the past.
Putting blame on those who work within the MNR for the decline of moose populations may be an easy assumption by those who would cast blame, but in conclusion the forest industry, politics and job creation in the forest sector have all contributed to the situation moose populations are in today. It is all about wood supply and jobs!
Thanks for the opportunity to comment.
James F. Kimberley