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Gord Follett

I’m not quite sure which of our beloved creatures – salmon or moose – has the most going against it these days, but as this is the Sportsman magazine’s Hunting Annual, I’ll focus this editorial on the majestic Alces alces in hopes that somebody with influence and intellect in our provincial government will finally put solid steps in place to protect our “twig eaters” before it’s too late.

And instead of saving what many of us see as “the main problem” for last here, we’ll get right to it and state unequivocally – in the minds of the vast majority of hunters and outdoor enthusiasts – that the exorbitantly-high number of licences being issued to the island portion of the province each year is having the biggest impact on the animal’s dwindling population.

And make no mistake about it – it is dwindling. Granted, there may be a few – a few – Moose Management Areas in Newfoundland where it may be a bit early to claim the population is declining, but the majority of areas are seeing less moose year after year. We hear this each and every day from people all throughout the province. And if government isn’t going to conduct significantly more proper (aerial) surveys to counter what we’re saying, then please, don’t waste our time with an argument. We’ve heard that song before. Same chorus, no lyrics.

Thirty-two friggin’ thousand licences a year! For a population of 90,000 – tops. And if you’re reading this from outside our province, this is not a joke. Many who spend a considerable amount of time “in the woods” in these parts actually say the total number is closer to 75,000-80,000.

There were 28,220 licences issued for Newfoundland in 2010-2011, then for the 2011-2012 season, “in response to concern involving moose-vehicle collisions,” as stated in the Hunting and Trapping Guide, government jacked the total to 33,440. That’s 5,520 extra permits from one season to the next!

The total for 2012-13 was 32,810; 31,305 in 2013-14; 31,005 in 2014-15; back up to 32,430 the next year; 31,955 in 2016-17 and 31,880 licences for this coming season.

That’s far too many than the population can sustain.

And then we have financial/staff cutbacks to the Wildlife/Science/Justice departments, or whatever division the actual “wildlife” section happens to be lumped in with this month. (Another mess, but we’ll leave that one for now.)

They’ve been scraped to the bone! And our elected officials still expect the few of them remaining to perform the same duties! So much for my grandson’s hopes of one day becoming a wildlife officer or biologist.

“I hope you’re prepared to move away to work,” I told him.

And, of course, we’ve been told to forget submitting moose jaw bones and bear skulls; politicians will “guess” their research results from here on in. And with not even a measly $25 now for a coyote carcass, hunters are basically being told to leave the animals in the woods to rot once we shoot them. Hunting “ethics” obviously not on government’s priority list, either.

Poachers are alive and well, certainly; many of them carrying “coyote rifles” such as the 22-250 10 months of the year. That’s a tough one to call, though. We’re sort of between a rock and a hard place there because we still want to try to keep coyote numbers in check.

Then we have the hard-core poachers, well known in their communities for their illegal activities year after year, though neighbours are hesitant to report them for fear of repercussions. And these so-called hunters don’t mind “bragging” about shooting five or six animals a season.

It never ceases to amaze me how much of this is actually going on, despite hefty fines and what they risk losing if caught. But hey, if there’s only one or two enforcement officers trying to cover literally hundreds of square kilometers, odds of being nabbed are pretty slim.

The ever-increasing black bear and coyote populations are obviously having an effect on our moose and caribou, particularly the younger animals. Eagles and lynx are among the “smaller” predators which occasionally feast on the young as well.

“It’s all part of Nature,” some will say.

Yup. I agree. To a point. That point is passed, however, when man (in this case, ill-advised government officials) step in and mess with Nature by adding increased pressure in the way of issuing one hunting permit for every three animals.

With pressure from SOPAC, they’re destroying a whole resource. A way of life in this province. A tradition. A means of obtaining the most healthy food on the planet.

(I realize already that this editorial is gonna be longer than most, but this issue has been bugging me for quite some time. I’m just gettin’ started here.)

Loss of habitat, particularly on the Avalon Peninsula, is having more of an effect than some care to believe. With sub-divisions and massive box stores popping out of the woods like wildflowers, where do you expect these animals to go? We’ve just driven them out of their natural environment – their homes – for God’s sake! And then people complain about all the moose-vehicle accidents on the Outer Ring Road or near new cabin developments a little further out the highway.

Slow the hell down, get rid of distractions such as cell phones, and drive according to conditions, not necessarily the speed limit. If it’s dark and raining in a 100-kph zone, try driving 75-80 kph.

There is always a possibility that I – defender of the moose – could very well be involved in an accident one day. But I’ve told my wife and family that if the unfortunate does happen, don’t blame the four-legged animal. Chances are I was too anxious to get where I was going, whether it was a hunting or fishing destination, or to Costco to grab a package of chicken wings.

I’ve been hearing lately as well that the “charity licence system,” of all things, is being abused in some areas. Apparently, fellas representing a charity will shoot a moose, then first call a friend who has a licence but not really interested in hunting, and instead of charity tags going on the animal, the individual locks his or hers. Charity tags can always be used on the next moose they get, or the one after that.

While technically tags do go on every harvested animal, many of these people likely wouldn’t get a moose if not for the charity sharp shooters.

Another “pending” problem that I see for our moose is drones. I’ll have more on this another time, but local officials should currently be looking into regulations – besides those already in place for areas around airports, etc. – to eliminate the use of these flying cameras to aid hunters locate live animals. From what I understand, some provinces have already enacted legislation in this regard. Tough to monitor, perhaps, but some “ground rules,” pardon the pun, should be put in place before they become as common as cell phones and the poor moose won’t stand a chance.

They’ll never replace choppers, but maybe drones can be used for surveys and enforcement.

I conclude – for now – with what I personally believe is the “second biggest” thing our moose – and other big game animals – have going against them; namely, our $2-billion ATV and snowmobile trail, also know as the Muskrat Falls transmission line.

From one end of the province to the other you can now travel – “in your pickup, if you want,” one line worker only half joking told me near Stephenville in early June – in search of an animal. And whether or not government tries to restrict access is immaterial; people will do it.

Wood roads through cutovers and marshes have always been the main “go-to” areas for spotting moose, caribou and bears, but now we can cut through some of the most prime areas, deeper into the country, where animals like to take refuge and feel secure.

Not in shape to walk a couple miles to get to – and along – the old pole line in MMA 24, 42, 17, 2, 6, 34, or wherever?

Not to worry. Gas up the machine and give ‘er.