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Update on the Mainland Moose: Progress for Species At Risk in Nova Scotia?

In late 2021, the province released the 9 years-overdue updated Recovery Plan for the Mainland Moose in Nova Scotia. We’ve reviewed the plan and outlined some actions you can take now to keep the momentum going.

by NatureNS Executive Director, Becky Parker

A Moose Walks into a Courtroom…

The moose is the largest member of the deer family and only remaining native cervid in Nova Scotia. Once abundant and found throughout the province, moose on the mainland are now found only in isolated pockets in the Cumberland/Colchester area, Pictou/Antigonish/Guysborough area, and the Tobeatic. Across this range, they are threatened by a combination of habitat destruction and fragmentation, poaching, and disease introduced by white tailed deer.

The mainland moose was listed under the provincial Endangered Species Act in 2003, requiring the province to produce a Status Report, examining the state of the population, and a Recovery Plan, guiding actions for species recovery.

In the 18 years since listing, the province has repeatedly failed to deliver on its legal responsibilities to the mainland moose. A Status Report was created in 2003, as required by the Act, though data were limited to only a handful of uncited studies from the 1980s and 90s and sparse for South-West Nova Scotia. A Recovery Plan was released in 2007 (3 years late according to the legislation) which failed to identify Core Habitat or set a goal for recovery, stating only that existing numbers should be maintained. Excluding Core Habitat, a decision the Plan justified through “insufficient data”, directly contravened the provisions of the Act, which requires Core Habitat identification and, through the Precautionary Principle, maintains that a lack of information should not preclude conservation action. An Action Plan, created in 2013, offered some additional data, tools for stewardship, and opportunities for partnership, but little was accomplished by the 2018 “timeline” conclusion. The Recovery Plan, Action Plan, and lack of initiative from government in the years following prompted many criticisms from conservation, scientific, and legal organizations in the province.

The mainland moose is also one of the 6 Species At Risk featured in the Bancroft vs NS Lands and Forestry judicial review you helped our nature network prepare for last year.

In that judicial review, we alleged that the province failed to establish a Recovery Team and create a Recovery Plan within the legal deadline (which is within one year of listing for Endangered species like the mainland moose), as well as to identify Core Habitat, as required by the Recovery Plan process.

We won the case and in November 2021, a year and a half later, government released an updated 2021 Recovery Plan for the Mainland Moose.

Immediate Action Needed on Research and Forestry Reform

This new Recovery Plan outlines, for the first time ever, a population target assuming recovery of the species and a 20 year goal for increasing numbers: 5000 individuals including 500 breeding, an increase of potentially ~4000 individual moose. The Plan also identifies Core Habitat, using a combination of existing population data and known and projected suitable habitat.

Moose need a variety of forest types to feed, raise young, and find shelter from both summer heat and winter cold, including a variety of both young and old-growth forests. The Recovery Plan recognizes that there is (and will continue be) insufficient suitable habitat available over the next 30 years to support the local populations necessary to achieve recovery objectives, particularly in older forest cover and forests connected enough to facilitate interbreeding. It suggests actions that should be taken to improve forest quality for moose. The Plan also for the first time outlines cost estimates for recovery actions and suggests that the current Special Management Practice for moose be revised.

The Recovery Team doesn’t shy away from expressing the immediacy of their recommendations, either:

“The Recovery Team is of the opinion that, given the critical nature of the Mainland moose population and ineffectiveness of previous recovery/action plans, almost all of the actions identified in Table 3 should be considered High in terms of their priority.”

One of the biggest challenges for the ongoing conservation of the mainland moose is a lack of understanding around population trends. The Recovery Plan strongly recommends the creation of new partnerships and volunteer programs that will improve ecological knowledge across the moose’s range. It also recommends the Minister designate Core Habitat, including linkages, and protect these areas through mechanisms like the Parks and Protected Areas system. Under the Endangered Species Act, there is no duty to designate Core Habitat, only to identify it through the planning process, so this recommendation is significant. In “buffer areas” around the Core Habitat, the Team recommends strengthened forest management techniques.

Special Management Practices outline certain accommodations that must be made for listed species during forestry operations on crown lands. Though the Plan does not make specific recommendations for how current forest management practices should be altered, it is clear that several improvements are necessary:

  • For one, the Mainland Moose SMP doesn’t cite any of the studies or data that supposedly inform its recommendations
  • Moose “shelter”, “retention”, and “buffer” patches likely need to be larger and more closely connected than the current minimum recommended
  • Forest type and configuration vary widely in working landscapes, and the SMP provides few alternatives for when the ideal recommendation is simply not possible
  • Road development is not currently regulated in any meaningful way, the SMP only asking that forest managers “avoid” it

You Can Help

Nature Nova Scotia commends the province for finally producing a sound plan for the mainland moose and, in particular, for emphasizing the immediate need for additional research and changes to forestry practices in moose habitat. Now, Nova Scotians must hold government to this plan. Help us save the mainland moose by taking the following actions today:

Last year, we learned the importance of speaking up for nature. Hikers, hunters, hobby naturalists, and retired scientists can make a difference when we work together. Join Us. #savethemainlandmoose

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