The Mainland Moose. Photo: Barbara Delicato / Nova Scotia Department of Lands & Forestry

“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.

Graph from the Mainland Moose Recovery Plan.

“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.

Map from the Mainland Moose Recovery Plan.

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.

Nina Newington speaks at the rally Wednesday. Photo: Leslie Amminson

“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.

Nina Newington took photos of logging near Rocky Point Lake in October. The area appears to be part of the core habitat of mainland moose identified in the recovery plan. Photo: Nina Newington/Facebook

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.


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Ethan Lycan-Lang

Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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  1. Minister of DNRR, Tony Rushton, is making a grave mistake in allowing the current harvesting-in-progress to continue unabated in the Rocky Point Lake area while awaiting more study of core habitat by the Mainland Moose Recovery Team. It is already well known to many that the Moose are utilizing the very area where roads have been widened to accommodate heavy machinery and logging trucks, and where extensive cutting is taking place. How much more proof is needed to shut down these operations until the situation is better known? Quite aside from current knowledge and observations, DNRR commissioned a study in October 1981, “An Evaluation of Moose Habitat in South Western Nova Scotia” by Paul Tufts of what was then known as the Dept of Lands and Forests. In his summary, Tufts advised that this area should not be disturbed with roads and other human activity as it would threaten the remaining Mainland Moose population of that region.

    Unfortunately, this kind of weird logic seems to be a problem with the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (or DLF or DNR or whatever it used to be called in the past). They keep ignoring science, the work of biologists in this province, and their own previous studies — continuing to make the same mistakes over and over while somehow expecting things to turn out differently — in this case, that we can continue to destroy Mainland Moose habitat and hope that, somehow, the Moose population will miraculously cease to decrease and instead begin to increase in numbers. There’s a well known saying that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Well????

    Studies conducted by biologists right here in Nova Scotia have determined that Moose are disturbed greatly by human activity – noise from equipment, noise from traffic, and other activities at quite some distance. Roads make Moose very vulnerable to harassment by ATVs. They subject them to lethal impact from poachers who are able to drive straight down these newly upgraded access routes in their trucks. Roads provide easy terrain over which Coyote can travel as they hunt for vulnerable animals. Deer which favour the kind of vegetation that grows up in clearcuts will infiltrate the areas inhabited by Moose, making them vulnerable to infection with the brainworm spread by Deer and lethal to Moose.

    How sad that we appear to be bungling along down the same old Road to Insanity, risking the last remnant population of Mainland Moose in Southwest Nova Scotia because no one seems to have the foresight and wisdom to stamp on the brakes. Even sadder that the reason for not doing so has far too much to do with not ticking off a certain industry sector.

    1. “They keep ignoring science, the work of biologists in this province, and their own previous studies — continuing to make the same mistakes over and over while somehow expecting things to turn out differently — in this case, that we can continue to destroy Mainland Moose habitat and hope that, somehow, the Moose population will miraculously cease to decrease and instead begin to increase in numbers.”

      A very good summary. I think the strategy for a long time was “stop hunting them and see what happens”. When that didn’t work after half a century or so in SWNS it turned into 20 or more year of trying to figure out “what next” with inadequate resources to do so.

      The issue of habitat connectivity and overall landscape connectivity has consistently been ignored despite calls to consider it and integrate it into crown land management and moose habitat management. It is largely only considered in the establishment of connectivity between protected areas. We are a small province with a few “chokepoints” (Lake Panuke, Halifax/Windsor corridor, Shubenacadie river, Chignecto Isthmus etc) and landscape connectivity and landscape level planning is important as a result.

      Road Ecology is a sub-science of it’s own and crown forestry roads in NS are being designed and approved by a variety of people with zero background or zero professional expertise in road ecology. Worse, the road footprints are getting larger despite the decades old research showing the negative impacts that road widening has on animal movements and poaching. Work looking at the effects of the provincial road system on connectivity is being done at Dalhousie (Caitlin Cunningham). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQ5R6bbfbsA&t=1945s&ab_channel=TheMTRI

      DNRR needs a PHD level “road guru” researcher who considers the landscape effects and oversees road planning for the entire crown land base of the province. Roads need to be posted for public comments just as harvests are, because often and increasingly the access road has a far longer and larger impact on the landscape and ecology than the forest harvesting does.

      1. Brad – You are so right about what’s happening with these logging roads. The network of roads and log yards is growing like a huge cancer across the province. Many of the logging roads are wider – the road and the cleared are to the sides — than the municipal roads that access them. One has to wonder if part of the strategy of road building is to scoop all the trees they can when they clear the forest to build a road — it adds up to a *very* substantial area leading to or between harvest parcels. And, as you say, the impact of these roads on wildlife is great. Also, with all of the cutting and blading away of the soil along the roads, the disturbance is providing near ideal conditions for invasive plants such as Glossy Buckthorn and non-native Phragmites.

        While there may be planning for scattered parcels, it seems there is little thought given to the collective impact at landscape level. There is too much being cut down all at once over too large an area. Undoubtedly, those with very large harvesting equipment like it that way — much the same as how, when the massive combines started to appear, farmers tore out fences and fencerow hedges to make it faster and easier to work up mammoth-sized fields measured by hundreds rather than dozens of acres. The result was wholesale destruction of the ecology of the land and that’s just what we now see happening in our forests. This doesn’t bode well at all for wildlife, soil, watersheds and forest ecology.

  2. Utterly laughable (if it wasn’t so tragic.) The so-called special management practices for preserving moose habitat was called out as antiscience nonsense last year when WestFor and the (then) Dept of Lands and Forestry tried to pull the same stunt. Clear cutting an area and leaving tiny clumps of trees here and there is NOT a special moose management strategy. It is an excuse to continue clear cutting, continue destroying moose habitat, and continue destroying our forests for the profit of a small few, greed driven forestry corporations. Every biologist, ecologist, and forestry expert (NOT being paid by WestFor, a WestFor contractor, or the government of NS) knows this and has said as much.
    WestFor and the new Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables, Tory Rushton, continue to lie and spread misinformation about ecological practices and proper forestry management. Clearly neither one can be trusted, and both need to be confronted for the blatant misinformation they are spreading.