We share the landscape with an abundance of big game wildlife species in Newfoundland and Labrador. More than 100,000 moose and thousands of black bears roam our forests. Woodland caribou are found throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. The migratory George River Herd occupies Quebec and Labrador at different times of the year.
Big game hunting is an important and valued tradition in our province. The sport provides recreational opportunities for residents and non-residents, who contribute to the province's annual economy through local spending and the outfitting industry. Hunting wild game also enhances a lifestyle of self-reliance and a tradition of living from the land.
The Wildlife Division manages big game populations to ensure these traditions may continue indefinitely, and in a sustainable manner. Wildlife management helps integrate us into the natural ecosystem so that both humans and wildlife can live together for the long term.
Wildlife management requires a fine balance; hunting more animals than a wildlife population can sustain will cause a population decline, and possible local extinction of a species. But allowing a population to increase without regulation through a legal harvest can also cause problems. If wildlife populations increase faster than their food sources, habitat degrades and can no longer sustain the animals within it. Hunting in the fall helps reduce population numbers before the onset of winter, when food supplies are at their lowest.
The Wildlife Division determines the maximum number of moose, caribou and black bear that can be safely harvested each year to prevent population declines, while at the same time making sure populations are being kept at levels that will not degrade the habitat and possibly lead to a population collapse.
To calculate how many moose or caribou may be harvested in a Management Area, the Wildlife Division must first determine how many animals are present. We do this through aerial surveys, which provide estimates of the number of bulls, cows, and calves within a Management Area. This survey also determines the recruitment rate: the number of young produced that survive to adulthood.
For populations to remain stable, license quotas are set so that harvest, combined with naturally occurring death (mortality), is roughly equal to the recruitment rate. For populations to increase, recruitment must exceed mortality, so the license quota is lowered; if we want the population to decrease, the quota is increased. Quotas are adjusted so that target populations will be achieved over a 10-year period.
Knowing whether a wildlife population should increase, decrease, or remain stable is a key factor in big game management. This is particularly true for moose, which are known to over-exploit their habitat when populations are high, resulting in drastic population declines. Recovery from these declines occurs only after the habitat regenerates, which takes a long time. The Wildlife Division uses forest inventory data to determine the amount of suitable moose habitat within each Management Area. We aim for a base target density of two moose per square kilometer of forested area. Other considerations, such as the type of forest, and the presence of human settlements, roads, and farms, alter the target densities for moose within each Management Area.
In the case of caribou, which feed on lichens and other small plants, research is being conducted to establish target densities and sizes for each of the Island of Newfoundland's caribou herds based on the amount of available habitat in their ranges. Currently, we aim to keep caribou populations stable with quotas that ensure mortality is equal to recruitment.
The Wildlife Division uses hunter trend data to determine whether big game populations within each Management Area are increasing or decreasing in response to our harvest strategy. The information hunters provide on their license returns, along with the jawbone in the case of moose, tells us whether hunter success, the number of animals seen, and the days hunted are going up or down, and whether the age and sex structure of the population is changing.
Input from the hunting public is extremely valuable in guiding our efforts to manage moose, caribou and black bear in Newfoundland and Labrador. License return data from the previous year are used as a guide for adjusting each year's quota allocations. Without these data, we would not know if the set quotas are helping us to achieve our target population goals.
Poaching big game animals, or failing to submit license returns, impedes our ability to evaluate our hunting strategy and jeopardizes the long-term persistence of big game populations.
Aerial survey data, hunter trend information, letters from the public, and jawbone data all help formulate annual moose and caribou quotas, which are set out in the annual Big Game Management Plan. This plan also addresses concerns from Conservation Officers, hunters, and the public. We consider boundary changes, quota allocations, and animal-human conflict issues, and recommend appropriate changes. When the Minister of Environment and Climate Change approves the plan, the Wildlife Division produces and distributes the annual Application Guide and the Hunting and Trapping Guide for the public, and the cycle starts again.
With cooperation from the hunting community, the legal harvest can be an effective tool that ensures our ecosystem remains intact, and that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians continue to share our natural landscape with wildlife in a sustainable manner for a long time to come.