Moose reduction program (2015-2018)
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 Information related to the project may be out of date but will remain accessible here for reference.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.
- Hyperabundant Moose Management Plan for North Mountain
- Frequently Asked Questions
Animals are considered hyperabundant when their population grows unnaturally large and begins to negatively impact ecosystem health.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park’s moose reduction program began in the fall of 2015, and concluded in 2018 in an effort to restore the boreal forest and maintain the diversity of the forest ecosystem. At the time of the Bring Back the Boreal project, the moose population in Cape Breton Highlands National Park was unsustainable.
A moose population survey conducted in March 2015 estimated the density of moose in Cape Breton Highlands National Park to be four times the amount the boreal forest can typically support. For the most up-to-date information, please click here.
In 2012, Parks Canada and the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia entered into an Interim Arrangement which signals areas where the two would like to work together (the Interim Arrangement was renewed in 2017). This encourages Parks Canada and the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia to collaborate on areas of mutual interest including cultural and natural resources, consultation, access/park entry, gathering of plants and other natural objects, and the establishment of advisory committees. As part of this agreement, the Mik'maq of Nova Scotia are provided first access to harvest hyperabundant wildlife populations inside Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
Frequently Asked Questions
How have moose impacted the boreal forest in Cape Breton Highlands National Park?
The massive spruce budworm outbreak in the 1970-80s killed mature trees in vast areas of the boreal forest. The young trees that sprouted afterwards were a favourite food for moose, and the moose population has grown so large that it has stalled the natural forest regeneration, turning large areas into grassland. This does not occur naturally in the boreal forest and many boreal plants and animals have been affected. Many species depend on healthy boreal forests including species at risk such as the Bicknell's thrush and the provincially rare American marten, and the Canada lynx.
What is a hyperabundant population?
Hyperabundance occurs when a population grows unnaturally large and begins to have a negative impact on other species and the health of the ecosystem. A healthy, balanced forest typically supports around 0.5 moose/km2. Moose density in Cape Breton Highlands National Park was 1.9 moose/km2 and the forest ecosystem was severely impacted by these high numbers. This was a huge concern, and the reason why we took actions to restore the forest such as the moose harvest. For the most up-to-date information, please click here.
- Isn’t there a law against anyone hunting in the park?
Under the Canada National Parks Act, hunting is prohibited in national parks; however, the legislation has exceptions to this general rule. Population reduction is reserved for situations of absolute necessity. Parks Canada allows limited hunting to take place in national parks when there is clear evidence that a population is too high, and there is clear evidence that it is having a serious impact on other plants and animals. The harvests were performed in a humane and respectful manner, and all meat was removed and used by the harvesters.
Why are the Mi’kmaq allowed to harvest the moose in Cape Breton Highlands National Park?
In 2012, Parks Canada and the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia entered into an Interim Arrangement which signals areas where the two would like to work together (The Interim Arrangement was renewed in 2017). This encourages Parks Canada and the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia to collaborate on areas of mutual interest including cultural and natural resources, consultation, access/park entry, gathering of plants and other natural objects, and the establishment of advisory committees. As part of this agreement, the Mik'maq of Nova Scotia are provided first access to harvest hyperabundant wildlife populations inside Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
What is the science behind the plan to reduce the population?
For more than 15 years, Parks Canada and other researchers have been studying moose population ecology and boreal forest regeneration in Cape Breton Highlands. These studies included tree and seedling densities, browse monitoring, aerial moose population surveys, moose collaring and tracking, exclosure studies, forest bird counts, and analysis of satellite imagery.
How many moose were in the park when the project began?
There were an estimated 1,800 moose in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which corresponds to a density of 1.9 moose/km2, based on a population survey conducted in March 2015. Thousands more are outside the park.
Why are there so many moose?
The past abundance of food, the lack of a predator such as wolves or humans, and low disease levels have allowed the population to grow to unsustainable numbers.
What would happen if nothing is done to control the moose population?
Larger areas of forest would change into grasslands, leading to a continued decline of native/characteristic wildlife and plant diversity. Eventually, the moose population would start to decline as suitable habitat decreases. Many other species depend on healthy boreal forests including species at risk such as the Bicknell's thrush and the provincially rare American marten, and the Canada lynx.
Was harvesting the only option looked at?
The harvest was selected as the most appropriate method for this pilot project and the one that most closely mimics predation as a natural process to control moose. Other options have been extensively researched and considered including:
Relocation: Cape Breton moose are genetically different from the Eastern moose subspecies found on the mainland. If the Province decided to move moose to the mainland, they would prefer to reintroduce moose of the same subspecies (New Brunswick or Quebec) and preserve the unique genetic make-up on the mainland.
Predator reintroduction: Wolves disappeared from Cape Breton by the early 1900s. Without wolves, moose have no major natural predators inside the park. Wolves would not stay in the 20 km2 North Mountain area, so wolf reintroduction was not appropriate for this pilot project.
Fencing: A five hectare fence has been constructed along the Skyline trail as another project component. Results from the fencing on the Skyline and the moose removal on North Mountain will be compared and used to inform future moose management discussions.
Parks Canada will regularly monitor the recovery of shrubs and trees, the re-growth of forest, and the size of the moose population to determine whether the population reduction and other initiatives are starting to show signs of reversing the trend of forest lost and beginning to bring back the boreal forest.
What has Parks Canada done to inform the public?
Parks Canada conducted a robust consultation process on the Hyperabundant Moose Management Plan for North Mountain. Stakeholders and experts were invited to an information session in the fall of 2014 and, following this, community information sessions were held in Cape North, Pleasant Bay and Wagmatcook. Parks Canada has conducted numerous media interviews on the project and produced ten newsletters, and information has been available at www.pc.gc.ca/bringbacktheboreal since the fall of 2015.