“The Recovery Team is of the opinion that Mainland moose are at a critical juncture of species recovery, and that most of the actions identified in the Recovery Plan should be considered a High priority.”
So says the long-awaited plan to recover the endangered mainland moose population in Nova Scotia.
Released Thursday, the Recovery Plan for the Moose in Mainland Nova Scotia sets the strategy for bringing the moose population in mainland Nova Scotia back to a healthy, sustainable level.
In the plan, the recovery team writes that recovery of the mainland moose population is feasible, but it will require “changes to forest management practices in Nova Scotia, addressing road density disturbance and other developmental pressures, the designation, protection, and management of Core Habitat, and significant financial resources to address threats and implement actions for recovery.”
Loss of habitat, fragmentation of population, disease, climate change, and poaching were identified as major threats to the species’ population, which has been in decline since the beginning of the 20th century.
“We now have an evidence-based recovery plan, which sets priorities and timelines for further action to help save this important species,” said Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables (RNN) Tory Rushton in the media release that announced the new plan Thursday.
“I thank the recovery planning team for its work and commit to working with our partners to implement the plan, with some actions already started.”
Mainland moose were declared an endangered species in 2003.
The Recovery Plan is part of the province’s obligation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under the Act, the province has one year to prepare a recovery plan for a species after it’s been declared endangered. These plans must be reviewed every five years to determine progress, and updated every 10 years.
The media release states there are 700 mainland moose left in the province. This is based on a 2004 analysis of a 2003 study. A 2019 CBC investigation found there could be fewer than one hundred mainland moose left.
Part of the Recovery Plan states that a baseline study of moose population status will be undertaken over the winter to give a clearer picture of the current state of the mainland moose.
The target for getting mainland moose off the endangered list: 5,000 individual moose on the mainland, with 500 minimum in the Tobeatic, Cumberland/Colchester, and Pictou/Antigonish/Guysborough areas. And protected corridors allowing free roam of moose between all three.
Moose habitat near Rocky Point Lake logging
The decline of mainland moose has been a cause for concern near logging operations around Rocky Point Lake in Digby County recently. On Wednesday, a group of protestors led by Extinction Rebellion Mi’kma’ki/Nova Scotia gathered outside the DNRR offices in Halifax to call for the immediate halt of cutting in the area until a recovery plan was put in place for mainland moose.
A day later, that plan was released.
It identifies the “core habitat” of the moose, which spans three major regions of the province (The Tobeatic, Cumberland/Colchester, and Pictou/Antigonish/Guysborough areas). The ESA defines core habitat as “specific areas of habitat essential for the long-term survival and recovery of endangered or threatened species.”
The logging operations near Rocky Point Lake are located within core habiat boundaries.
Nina Newington, a member of Extinction Rebellion who helped organize Wednesday’s protest, said the report is well overdue. She says she’s happy it’s finally been released, but now that core habitat has been identified, there’s more to be done.
“I would like to see them stop the logging and stop the road building, stop the harvesting in these areas, and get a move on with actually designating core habitat. What I don’t want to see is, you know, another version of Lahey.”
Newington is referring to the Lahey Report, a 2018 study with recommendations for creating a more ecological approach to forestry in Nova Scotia. The recommendations have yet to be implemented, and the new provincial government now says it won’t adopt them until 2023 at the earliest.
Moose require diverse forest for food, shelter, and temperature regulation. They also require wooded areas for migration. Logging roads, as well as regular roads and highways, block moose from moving freely around the province.
Bob Bancroft, the president of Nature Nova Scotia and former member of the mainland moose recovery team that put out the 2007 plan, also wants to see cutting stopped in the newly identified core habitat.
“There should be a moratorium,” he said in an interview. “They’ve declared a lot of core habitat without doing anything about it near as I can tell.”
Now that core habitat has been identified, the ESA gives Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables Tory Rushton the authority to designate that land “core habitat,” and “may make regulations respecting all or any specific core habitat for the purpose of controlling, restricting, or prohibiting any use of, access to, [or] activity” on that identified land.
Bancroft says follow-up regulations are pivotal.
“If the environmental assessment [of cutting] changes as a result of this new plan, that’ll be a real positive thing.”
Bancroft says what WestFor is doing near Rocky Point Lake is clearcutting. WestFor put out a media release Wednesday saying 60% of the trees at this site will be left standing and they are not clearcutting.
In an email to the Examiner the DNRR said they’ve conducted several on-site visits and are satisfied that the work being carried out is meeting or exceeding the requirements of standard management practices. These standard management practices were in place before the recovery plan was released and WestFor has been operating under them since they began cutting. Standard management practices and department oversight will remain in place for all harvests in the area, they say.
With regards to implementing the plan, the department had this to say:
“We’re assessing the best ways to put the recovery plan into action, including if and where designation is the right tool to manage core habitat. Until that time, we will continue to apply our existing practices for managing moose habitat which are designed to maintain important forest features for moose in these areas.”
Plan contains “unknowns” about recovery of moose
The plan identifies four criteria that must be met for recovery of mainland moose in Nova Scotia to be achievable.
The recovery team found that, for the foreseeable future, there are still enough breeding moose to sustain the population and increase numbers. But, they said it’s “unknown” if the other three criteria can be met.
It is unknown if:
- Sufficient suitable habitat is available to support the species or could be made available through habitat management or restoration.
- The primary threats to the species or its habitat (including threats outside Canada) can be avoided or mitigated. (ie. habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, disease, and climate change).
- Recovery techniques exist to achieve the population and distribution objectives or can be expected to be developed within a reasonable timeframe.
- Protection of Core Habitat, road management, forest management guidance for Crown and private lands, policy changes, and enhancement to existing policies and guidance are vital.
This article has been updated to include a response from the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables.