Moose (Alces alces) are the largest living members of the deer family in the world. Here on Cape Breton Island they are in abundance. This is not true on mainland Nova Scotia, where the moose has been officially listed as endangered and presently numbers less than 1000 individuals.
During the 1600's, with the onslaught of European settlers, the fate of the moose and caribou population, as well as the timber wolf, was sealed. Overhunting as a result of greed, mismanagement of land use (including gross negligence resulting in massive fires), and the introduction of the white-tailed deer (they brought the 'brain worm' to the territory) caused the extirpation of the caribou and timber wolf, and all but wiped out the moose population on Cape Breton Island. Records also indicate that by the early 1800's, the Micmac Indians became so outraged by the exploitation of the moose by the white man that they slaughtered up to 10 times more moose than they needed for their own survival, rather than leave them for the white man.
By the turn of the 20th century, moose on Cape Breton Island were all but extinct. During the 1940's, a western species of moose was reintroduced to the highlands. 18 individuals were released, and by the 1960's their number had only increased to approximately 100.
In the late 1970's, the spruce budworm devastated the balsam fir forest of the upper plateau of the Highlands. The regenerating forest has provided an abundance of high quality of winter food, for Moose love young fir best, and the opportunity to graze this prime habitat, and the absence of the wolf, has allowed the moose population to grow to its current size of approximately 5000 animals.
|When food becomes scarce, as it often does toward spring, moose will strip bark from trees.|
However, once the animals reach such high densities, they reduce the ability of the land to support them through their destruction of successional stage browse plants in their winter range. Some areas of Cape Breton are in jeopardy of being overgrazed as the population of moose has grown to five individuals per kilometer, the ideal being two. In other words, they are eating themselves out of house and home!
Presently, 300+ moose hunting licenses are distributed each year by a lottery drawing, and moose country has been divided into four zones with three designated fall hunting seasons in an attempt to control this growing population. To the best of my knowledge, the Micmac Indians are allowed to take moose, as needed, throughout the year.
To quote from a publication put out by the Canadian Wildlife Service in conjunction with Hinterland Who's Who - "Moose in many regions will be kept from starvation only if most Canadians understand that population control is essential for the health of the species."
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