The Bring Back the Boreal Project concluded on March 31, 2019. Information related to the project may be out of date but will remain accessible here for reference. For the most up-to-date information, click here.

In recent decades, large areas of Cape Breton Highlands National Park have experienced poor post-budworm forest regeneration due to extremely high moose populations. An analysis of recent satellite imagery (Figure 1) indicates that 11% of the total area of the park has been converted from forests to grass-dominated habitat. The most recent Management Plan for Cape Breton Highlands National Park outlines actions for maintaining and improving a healthy forest ecosystem. It specifically identifies the need for a plan to address the current and future preservation and restoration of the forest health in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

Analysis of 2013 Spot-5 imagery of the park, showing forested areas that have become grasslands following a spruce budworm outbreak and subsequent browsing by moose.
Figure 1: Analysis of 2013 Spot-5 imagery of the park, showing forested areas that have become grasslands following a spruce budworm outbreak and subsequent browsing by moose.
© Parks Canada

In the spring of 2014, Cape Breton Highlands National Park began Bring Back the Boreal, a Conservation and Restoration (CoRe) project to begin to restore forest health. Through this project, Parks Canada will continue to work closely with our Mi’kmaq partners, stakeholders, and Canadians to evaluate and discuss long-term and sustainable solutions to reducing the impact of hyperabundant moose on the health of Cape Breton Highlands National Park forested ecosystems.

The project will test various forest restoration methods including constructing fenced moose exclosures, tree-planting, and removing moose from a 20 km2 area of the park. An exclosure has been constructed and trees were planted on the Skyline trail. Any removal of moose requires an approved hyperabundant wildlife management plan before action may be taken. The approved Hyperabundant Moose Management Plan for North Mountain meets the requirements of Parks Canada Management Directive 4.4.11: Management of Hyperabundant Wildlife Populations in Canada’s National Parks. It provides the scientific justification for why moose are considered hyperabundant in CBHNP and why population reduction by harvesting was selected for the North Mountain area.

Identifying the Problem

Failed boreal forest regeneration at monitoring station on North Mountain plateau, with open grassland and severely browsed and stunted white birch.
Figure 2: Failed boreal forest regeneration at monitoring station on North Mountain plateau, with open grassland and severely browsed and stunted white birch.
© Parks Canada

Over the past 20 years, the impacts of moose on boreal forest regeneration in northern Cape Breton have been well documented by both Parks Canada and external researchers, who have shown that boreal forest succession has failed due to overbrowsing by moose. Monitoring of browse levels by Cape Breton Highlands National Park staff also show that a high proportion of key boreal species, such as balsam fir and white birch, are severely browsed and are unable to grow to a height where they are out of reach by moose.

The loss of forest cover directly impacts those species that need forests for shelter and food. This includes species at risk like Bicknell’s thrush, which require dense regenerating forests for nesting, and provincial species at risk like American marten and Canada lynx, which require forest for cover and prey.

These severe impacts of moose overbrowsing on the boreal forest have led Parks Canada and key stakeholders to classify moose as hyperabundant and recommend active management to remove moose.

North Mountain is one of the most impacted areas of the park, with grassland covering approximately two-thirds of what was once thriving boreal forest. However, North Mountain also shows high potential for recovery in the absence of moose, as indicated by results from a small exclosure constructed in 2007 (Figure 3).


Researcher Sean Blaney surrounded by regenerating saplings in North Mountain exclosure in 2014, with grassland from control area visible in the background.
Figure 3: Researcher Sean Blaney surrounded by regenerating saplings in North Mountain exclosure in 2014, with grassland from control area visible in the background.
© Parks Canada

Typical moose densities in ecosystems with wolf predation and/or intensive hunting are less than 1.0 moose/kmand often closer to 0.5 moose/km2. Cape Breton Highlands National Park’s moose population survey results from 2015 show densities of nearly four times this amount, at 1.9 moose/km2. As a result, Cape Breton Highlands National Park’s ecosystem is unable to support such a high population of moose; the hyper abundance of moose is harmful to its recovery.

Selecting a Management Option for North Mountain

A number of potential management options for the North Mountain area were assessed in consultation with stakeholders and experts in the fall of 2014. There was general consensus that moose removal via lethal reduction is the most feasible and preferred option for the North Mountain area. Other options considered included fencing, wolf reintroduction, translocation, fertility and birth control, and herding. While these were not considered viable options for North Mountain, they may be considered in future discussions of a park-wide moose management initiative.

Following this stakeholder consultation, CBHNP proposed lethal reduction via harvesting over the 20 km2 North Mountain area (Figure 4). The proposed target is a 90% reduction of the moose population in this area of North Mountain.


SPOT-5 imagery of the 20 square kilometer North Mountain study area.
Figure 4: SPOT-5 imagery of the 20 km2 North Mountain study area.
© Parks Canada

As part of the Interim Arrangement between the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia and Parks Canada, signed in 2012 (and renewed in 2017), the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia have first opportunity to harvest hyper-abundant wildlife populations inside Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Hence the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia, as represented by the Assembly of NS Mi’kmaq Chiefs, will work together with Parks Canada to manage the removal of moose from North Mountain, with Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources (UINR) leading proposed harvest operations. 

The proposed harvest has been presented to the public at information sessions and the HMMP has been reviewed by key stakeholders. A primary concern from these sessions is the potential impacts of the North Mountain harvest on the neighbouring provincial hunting zone in the Polletts Cove – Aspy Fault Provincial Wilderness Area. The intent is to conduct Cape Breton Highlands National Park harvest operations so as not to cause unreasonable adverse impacts on the surrounding areas. A monitoring plan was developed in conjunction with key stakeholders in order to assess and mitigate these impacts, as well as inform discussions related to future harvest adjustments. As part of this monitoring program, the densities of moose inside and outside the park on North Mountain will continue to be monitored via annual aerial surveys, and land-based winter surveys will also be developed to document post-harvest moose movement to and from the study area.

Harvest success will be measured through monitoring of the vegetation response and browse levels in the area. The results from this and the moose movement monitoring will be used to assess and refine harvest operations for the remainder of the project, and inform park-wide, sustainable moose management initiatives.

Harvest Operational Plan

Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources (UINR) and Parks Canada have developed operational harvest guidelines in accordance with established ethical harvesting practices and minimizing risks to public safety. Detailed operational protocols have been developed before each harvest season, to be considered and approved by project partners. 

All harvesting will be conducted by Mi’kmaq hunters, carefully selected by UINR from Unama’ki (Cape Breton) and from Mainland Nova Scotia. The harvesters will receive individual authorizations from the Cape Breton Highlands National Park Superintendent, allowing them to harvest moose in the North Mountain study area and conduct related activities within Cape Breton Highlands National Park. UINR will be coordinating harvest operations, with support by Parks Canada staff.

Harvesting can occur over a pre-specified period between the end of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park visitor season (late October) and December 31 each year. During the harvest operational period, public access to the entire North Mountain area inside the park will be restricted, with the exception of through-travel along the Cabot Trail. The public will be notified of any area closures and harvest periods when dates are determined.

Off-road motorized transportation is not permitted during the harvest, with the exception of snowmobiles provided there is sufficient snow cover. Helicopter usage is permitted for spotting and transportation purposes, but is not permitted to chase or herd moose.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park will collect information on each harvested animal, including age, sex, body condition, and blood and hair samples. UINR and Kwilmu'kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office (KMKNO) will distribute harvested moose meat to Mi’kmaq and non-Mi’kmaq communities through Nova Scotia as well as Feed Nova Scotia.


To request a copy of the Hyperabundant Moose Management Plan for North Mountain, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, email cbhnp.info@pc.gc.ca.