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Paul Smith: Moose numbers are seriously down

A roast of moose at the cabin
A roast of moose at the cabin - Photos by Paul Smith

Why are we surprised?

It’s time once again to apply for a moose licence. There are fewer moose permits to go around this year, 2,470 less, to be specific. The total licence allotment for the autumn 2018 big game moose hunt is a grand total of 29,260.  But that’s down less than eight per cent. I think based on my own observations and experience that the actual moose population has shrunk quite a bit more than that. I’d guess maybe 50 per cent or more in the area that I hunt.

In Area 34, that’s Bay de Verde by name, there are 650 licences offered for 2018. Last year there were 700. A 50-animal reduction isn’t going to fix the problem in this area. Our moose numbers are way down. At least that’s what I think, and it’s an opinion widely held in this neck of the woods. I think much more needs to be done. I need to check in my archived hunting annuals in detail, but even 650 is significantly up from the traditional quota in Area 34. In 2014 the tally was 500. I think 200 either sex licences were added in the fall of 2015. That is a 40 per cent increase in one year. Why?

The outlook for moose in not good in Bay de Verde area.
The outlook for moose in not good in Bay de Verde area.

On top of our regular Area 34 hunters, we also have a share of the roadside hunters doing duty to clear moose from the Veteran’s Highway. Moose Reduction Zone 100 runs from St. John’s to Clarenville, and down the Veteran’s as far as Tilton. The allotment is 600 either sex licenses, and it seems quite a few Conception Bay North hunters are taking advantage of this opportunity. I think far too many moose have been killed over the past five or six years. It has taken a heavy toll on the overall population. 

We will see for certain in time, but I think that under the present quotas and regulations, our moose population will continue to decline. The season has been shortened, now ending Dec 31. That will help a bit. I think the moose reduction zone on the Veteran’s Highway may be playing a bigger role than many realize. Fencing was always the real solution to keeping moose off our highways. The cheaper and easier solution is severely culling the moose population. I think that’s where we are headed here on the Avalon Peninsula.

Government is walking a very fine line here. Money isn’t plentiful, so the idea of fencing high traffic areas to reduce moose vehicle collisions is off the table, for now at least. A few years back there was a big push, a lobby you could say, to fix the problem. Too many people were dying in accidents with moose. Something had to be done, and rightly so. The cameras and warning system technology failed miserably. Money was wasted. Studies were done and repeated over again. A section of fence was built along the highway west of Corner Brook. By the way, is that working out? Government was under intense pressure to take action.

Finally, I think the decision was made behind closed doors to get rid of the moose. Licence quotas were increased, seasons extended, and two massive highway reduction zones were instated. And you know what? It bloody well worked. The moose population is way down. Now we are going to spend more money to count moose and try and figure out why the numbers are down. It isn’t rocket science. You can only kill a moose once. It dies and does not reproduce. And those reduction zones are all either sex licences. No cows, no calves, it’s that simple.

We love wild meat in the freezer. but conservation must come first.
We love wild meat in the freezer. but conservation must come first.

So here we are with too few moose for the liking of hunters. What happens? The hunters lobby government to fix their problem, a diametrically opposite pickle. And government is the political monkey in the middle. One lobby group wants more moose and the other wants the moose off the highways. And government tries to thread the needle by cutting back licences enough to satisfy hunters, but not enough to really let the moose rebound. That would relight another political firestorm. But both moose hunters and folks who want moose off the road vote in provincial elections. You see the problem. Right?

I have for the sake of argument and clarity oversimplified this dichotomy. Because I am a moose hunter and a motorist, and I have kids who drive, and grandkids who ride our highways in booster seats. I don’t want moose on the TCH. But I also want wildlife in the woods. Many of us are on both sides of the street. I suppose there are some who would be happy with zero moose, but not many I suspect. We have to get serious and tell our leaders what we need and want. It’s time to stop playing politics with this moose business. There is only one solution that will allow for a healthy moose population and safe driving. Fences work.

I know very well that we can’t fence all our highways. But we could start where most of the accidents occur. I suspect that would be between St. John’s and Clarenville, correlated with high traffic. And where there are no fences we should reduce the speed limit to 80 km/h at night. With a combination of enforced speed limits and fencing I think we could find the proper balance. We are the voters and government will bend and sway to our demands.

Hunters out there, this recent adjustment to the moose quota isn’t seriously addressing the steep animal decline. Moose numbers are certainly down. That was the plan and it worked. Real solutions will only come if we call out much louder. But this should not be a fight with our neighbours, as we all want safe driving and hunting opportunity for our kids. It is possible.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at  or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock

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