Maintaining forest balance — Management plan for the hyperabundant moose population 2023 - 2027

Forillon National Park

Table of contents

List of tables

List of figures

Approval note

As a direct result of the surveys and other investigations carried out between 2009 and 2023, this new moose management plan aims to take stock of the state of the moose population as well as the state of the ecological integrity of the forest ecosystem of Forillon National Park, and then to recommend measures to be implemented, if necessary, over the next five years (2023 to 2027). The proposed actions consist mainly of continuing efforts to acquire knowledge, establish management partnerships and monitor the moose population. The stated measures also include implementing (if necessary) a control program for this population, which is considered hyperabundant. As with the previous management plan (Moose Management Plan 2013-2017), this plan will guide and assist park managers in addressing the challenges associated with the potential impacts of moose hyperabundance within their territory.

Approved by:
Élisabeth Lacoursière, Superintendent
Forillon National Park
Gaspésie Field Unit
Parks Canada

Authors

Pierre Etcheverry, Ph.D.
Conservation Project Coordinator, Parks Canada
Daniel Sigouin, M.Sc.
Ecologist, Team Leader, Parks Canada
Mathieu Côté, Ph.D.
Manager, Resource Conservation, Parks Canada

Collaboration

Claude Samson, Ph.D.
Ecologist, Ecological Integrity Monitoring, Parks Canada

Révision

Claude Samson, Ph.D.
Ecologist, Ecological Integrity Monitoring, Parks Canada
Jean-Pierre Tremblay, Ph.D.
Full Professor, Université Laval
Antoine Plouffe-Leboeuf, M.Sc.
Ecologist, Parks Canada
Marie-Ève Murray
Public Relations and Communications Officer, Parks Canada
Angelle Rodrigue
Indigenous Policy and Program Advisor, Parks Canada
Michel Queenton
Manager, External Relations
Martin Dorais, B.Sc.
Biologist, Director of Wildlife Management for Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks

Photographs

Norbert Denis
Parks Canada

Cited reference

Etcheverry, P., D. Sigouin, M. Côté. 2023. Hyperabundant Moose Management Plan 2023- 2027, Forillon National Park. Parks Canada Agency; Resources Conservation Service, Forillon National Park. 77 p.

For any questions or additional information, please contact Pierre Etcheverry at the following address: pierre.etcheverry@pc.gc.ca


Executive summary

A survey of moose in Forillon National Park in 2009 revealed that the population density was relatively high and growing, and that it was therefore likely to negatively affect the ecological integrity of the park’s forest ecosystems in the long term. In this context, a first moose management plan was developed for the period of 2013 to 2017 inclusively. It recommended studying moose and their impacts on the park’s forest ecology to better understand their population dynamics and measure the effects of their food intake on plant communities. It also recommended that a working group be formed to determine the hyperabundance of this population and to identify measures to be implemented to manage the situation, and to develop a communication plan on the issues that moose management represents for a national park.

In 2017, following the application of these recommendations, it was clear that the moose population of Forillon National Park had increased considerably to reach a density never before seen in the history of the park (35 moose/10 km2) and that it was beginning to have negative impacts on the forest ecosystem that are characteristic of a hyperabundance situation. In light of this and Parks Canada’s ecological integrity obligations, further work on knowledge acquisition and the development of a new management plan was required to determine and implement the best strategy to address these issues.

Based on these recommendations, the results obtained, additional data collected between 2017 and 2023, and the experience of other parks in Eastern Canada that have experienced a similar situation, we have:

  • analyzed the characteristics, causes and potential consequences of the demographic variations of the moose population in Forillon National Park observed since the beginning of the monitoring of the population in 1973 and officially declared it hyperabundant;
  • acknowledged the management responsibilities that resulted from this decision;
  • evaluated the pros and cons of a dozen management measures that would be available to us to manage this situation;
  • communicated and consulted with the public on these actions to better inform our decision making;
  • chosen to conduct a conservation hunt as a means of controlling this hyperabundant population if necessary.

To be implemented responsibly, effectively and safely, this management measure must be accompanied by related initiatives and its terms and conditions must be clearly defined before it is deployed in the field. The details of the initiatives and terms and conditions were the subject of recommendations grouped into six main areas:

  1. Targets to be achieved in terms of ecological integrity: Implementing measures to control the hyperabundant moose population must contribute to the ecological monitoring effort conducted by Forillon National Park to achieve its objectives so that the state of ecological integrity of the forest ecosystem becomes “GOOD” again (see below for the meaning of the term “GOOD”). For this reason, it is important to gradually lower the density of this population and to make it tend toward an optimum hovering around 10 moose/10 km2. In addition, it is also important to continue to conduct scientific investigations that monitor the effect of moose control on forest plant communities.
  2. Operationalization of management measures: If control is to be implemented, it must take the form of a conservation hunt supervised by Parks Canada and respecting its regulations. Ideally, its implementation should also be accompanied by an adjustment of the hunting terms and conditions on the periphery of Forillon National Park so that moose management is done in a coherent way on a regional scale.
  3. Scientific monitoring and adaptive management: The removal target should be scientifically based and its intensity should be adjustable according to the need to maintain a healthy forest ecosystem. Within a reasonable period of time, it should restore the moose population to levels of abundance consistent with the ecological integrity of the park and keep it relatively stable thereafter. The scientific investigations that have been initiated must be continued and new complementary investigations must be conducted in order to continue to manage the situation on the basis of solid knowledge and to adjust decision-making to the results obtained.
  4. Environmental impacts: The initiatives foreseen in this management plan will make it possible to monitor the moose population and, if necessary, start controlling its abundance in order to preserve the ecological integrity of the forest ecosystem of Forillon National Park. However, they also focus as much as possible on the benefits to the local communities. These initiatives are therefore likely to have an impact on certain components of the ecosystem and lead to social and economic benefits on a regional scale. Therefore, it is advisable to analyze the impacts on the environment in order to plan mitigation measures or adjustments if necessary.
  5. Public safety: In view of the abundance of moose in the park, the Gaspé Field Unit wishes to implement the initiatives set out in this moose management plan, at least for the next five years. Given their nature and their extent in space and time, these initiatives involve risks (e.g., transportation accidents, use of firearms) that users of Forillon National Park will have to contend with. However, Parks Canada will work proactively to ensure their safety. A safety plan will be drawn up accordingly.     
  6. Communications and consultation: The measures that will be deployed to manage the abundance of moose remain critical elements that warrant an effective communication strategy. In fact, continuing and strengthening existing communication and consultation initiatives must be an integral part of the operationalization approach of this management plan to ensure that the entire process is well understood and accepted.

In the coming years, the management of the moose population in Forillon National Park will likely continue to be a major challenge for park managers. It will be important to acquire the knowledge required to make decisions, apply the principles of adaptive management and, above all, involve the Micmac Nation of Gespeg, the various partners and the local communities in the management and understanding of an issue whose repercussions could be unprecedented in the evolution of the forest ecosystems that are under Parks Canada’s jurisdiction.


Introduction

One of the largest herbivorous ungulates on the planet, the moose (Alces sp.) is also the largest cervid currently living on Earth. Its range is circumpolar, inhabiting mainly boreal forests, mixed forests and temperate deciduous forests of the Northern Hemisphere with a preference for subarctic climates. Its diet consists of terrestrial and aquatic vegetation and, when present in high densities, its energy requirements give it the ability to severely alter vegetation to the point where it can change the forest dynamics of the ecosystems it frequents (Peek 2007, Parks Canada Agency 2010bc).

Over the last two decades, the moose (Alces americanus) population in Forillon National Park has grown exponentially, reaching densities that could threaten the park’s ecological integrity (see below). Parks Canada’s responsibility to protect and conserve the natural environment required it to plan and implement a means of managing this situation. In this context, in 2013, the Resource Conservation Department of Forillon National Park developed a first moose management plan (Sigouin et al. 2013) whose main purpose was essentially to establish a “state of the premises.”

This document follows up on the work begun during the implementation of the first management plan, and therefore constitutes a second plan in this area. Its goal is to build on the results of the previous plan in order to determine and implement the best possible strategy to deal with a potential hyperabundance of moose in Forillon National Park. More specifically, based on these results, but also on the scientific literature, on additional data collected until 2023, and on the experience of other national parks in Eastern Canada that have experienced a similar situation, the objectives are:

  • to analyze the characteristics, causes and potential consequences of the demographic variations of the moose population of Forillon National Park observed over the last decades;
  • to rule on the hyperabundance of this population;
  • to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of different management measures that are available to us to deal with this situation;
  • to communicate and consult with the public on these management actions in order to make informed and socially acceptable decisions;
  • to make recommendations for the responsible, effective and safe implementation of the chosen management measure(s).

To achieve our objectives, we have divided this second moose management plan into six chapters. The first one will present the ecological issues related to the hyperabundance of a species like moose in a national park. The legal context and guidelines for managing this type of situation as well as the relationship with various interest groups will also be presented. In the second chapter, the main points and results of the first moose management plan will be described and discussed. The third chapter will allow us to rule on the ecological integrity of Forillon National Park and the hyperabundant nature of the park’s moose population. The fourth chapter will report on experiences in Eastern Canada in similar situations, highlighting key points from the experiences of Parks Canada as well. A description of various possible management measures, along with a full analysis of their advantages and disadvantages and the public consultations conducted on the subject, will be the subject of the fifth chapter. At the end of this meeting, we will discuss which option or options will be the most promising to adopt to deal with the moose situation in Forillon National Park. Finally, the sixth and last chapter will bring together all of the recommendations that stem from Parks Canada’s commitment to successfully implement its options over the next few years.


Background

Context and ecological issues

Moose population trends in Eastern Canada

General situation in the Eastern provinces

Moose populations in Eastern Canada have been experiencing particularly favourable environmental conditions for the past few decades (transformation of their habitats, reduction or even disappearance of the wolf, their main predator) which, in some places, has allowed them to become more abundant even in areas where they are hunted. With the exception of Prince Edward Island, where moose have disappeared completely, and mainland Nova Scotia, where they are very rare, moose are present in large numbers in Quebec, northern New Brunswick and Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, and in Newfoundland.

In Quebec, particularly favourable environmental conditions are coupled with forestry and wildlife management strategies that contribute to the maintenance of high moose densities, especially in the Lower St. Lawrence and Gaspé regions, despite the presence of strong hunting pressure. The density level in these areas is currently between 11 and 32 moose/10 km2 depending on the area (Dorais 2017, Dorais and Lavergne 2017, Roussel-Garneau and Larocque 2020).

In New Brunswick, the limited data available from harvest reports indicate that in recent years the moose population appears to be declining in the southern part of the province while it remains stable (or slightly increasing) but high in most northern areas. This is particularly true in the northwestern part of the province (New Brunswick Department of Energy and Resource Development 2017) where it reaches densities similar to those observed in Gaspé (Luc Gagnon, Regional Biologist, Natural Resources New Brunswick, pers. comm.), i.e. between 10 and 25 moose/10 km2 depending on the area.

Moose in Nova Scotia, the province with the second highest human population in Canada, have become rare throughout the province and the status of the Nova Scotia population is still precarious in all but the northeastern part of the province on Cape Breton Island at this time. The moose on this island disappeared in 1924, as a result of hunting and the destruction of its habitat. However, the species was reintroduced to Cape Breton Highlands National Park in the late 1940s. This reintroduction was a success so that it is now very abundant in the park and has recolonized the whole island. In 1995, the population density was estimated at nearly 50 moose/10 km2 in northern Cape Breton (Parks Canada Agency 2010a). The last inventory conducted indicated 19 moose/10 km2 (Parks Canada Agency 2015).

Newfoundland had the largest moose population growth of any province in Eastern Canada. The entire current population originated from a group of only six moose introduced to the island between 1878 and 1904 (Pimlott 1953). After the extermination of the wolf in 1932, moose colonized the entire island of Newfoundland (Pimlott 1959) and, thanks to forestry cuttings and insect epidemics in the 1970s and 1980s that greatly improved feeding conditions, the population increased rapidly until it reached a peak of about 140,000 individuals in the 1990s, with densities that could exceed 70 moose/10 km2 in some places. Today, these densities have declined by 25-30% to around 50 moose/10 km2 (Butt 2017).

In general, regardless of province and with the exception of a few hunting areas, the highest densities are found in conservation areas such as national parks.

Situation in the Eastern National Parks

In Eastern Canadian national parks, the high densities of moose observed in recent decades, can be explained by the fact that populations are not (or only minimally) regulated by predation or hunting since it is prohibited in the parks (Taylor and Knight 2009; Parks Canada Agency 2010c; CBHNP 2015). At the same time, although logging is also prohibited and forest fires are well controlled, habitats may have been disrupted by insect outbreaks, primarily the spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana). Having occurred in the 1970s-80s, these outbreaks helped rejuvenate forest stands, providing moose with an abundant food source (Taylor and Knight 2009; Parks Canada Agency 2010c; CBHNP 2015). In fact, up to now, moose have been living peacefully in the parks, with no problems feeding. However, when they become hyperabundant, the integrity of forest ecosystems could be threatened and a cascade of effects on forest biodiversity could occur, which is contrary to the very mission of parks.

From this perspective, the best documented cases are those in the federal national parks in the provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Indeed, the most recent State of the Park Report for Cape Breton Highlands National Park (Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia) noted that the forest ecosystem was degraded, with severe regeneration problems (including the creation of grasslands in some areas of the park; Bridgland 2009), and that this degradation was due to the very large number of moose in the area (Harvey et al. 2010). In this park, the reintroduced moose population remained small until the 1970s (66 individuals, Bridgland et al. 2007), then exploded to over 2,000 individuals in the mid-2000s (densities ranging from 30 to 100 moose/10 km2; CBHNP 2015). Thereafter, it returned to lower levels in 2015 (approximately 20 moose/10 km2), which is still relatively high, however (CBHNP 2015).

In Newfoundland, the first moose were observed in the Gros Morne area on the west coast of the island as early as 1925. They became increasingly “common” until the 1970s and then, following the establishment of the national park in 1973 and the effects of the insect epidemics of the 1970s and 1980s, the population increased sharply. Within the park, a peak of 7,800 individuals was reached in 1998 (McLaren et al. 2009, Connor et al. 2000). In 2009, a partial inventory determined that the population density in the park’s lowlands was 59 moose/10 km2 (Taylor and Knight 2009), nearly three times the density found in the provincial hunting territory. In some inventory blocks, when moose were grouped in winter yarding areas, densities of up to 150 moose/10 km2 were measured. Several years of monitoring has revealed that such large numbers of animals have been able to convert over 65 km2 of forest into grassland. Significant population reduction measures have been implemented since 2011, reducing densities to around 21 individuals/10 km2. As a result, many observations indicate that the forest is currently regenerating (Tom Knight, Gros Morne National Park Forest Health Officer, pers. comm.).

In the Terra Nova National Park area (still in Newfoundland but on its east coast), moose were first observed in 1930 and the park’s population peaked in 1997 with 650 individuals (approximately 19 individuals/10 km2). However, the only part of this park that is covered by quality moose habitat is only 10% of the total land area, the rest is rocky soil, open bogs and pure stands of black spruce, so the actual density of moose in the habitats available to them is much higher. As for Gros Morne, this increase is mainly due to insect outbreaks and the hunting ban. However, the population has since declined and was about 250 individuals in 2010. In contrast to the Gros Morne population, moose in Terra Nova appear to be affected by a lack of food due to the effects of overbrowsing; a deterioration in the physical status of individuals has also been noted. Despite this decline, the population has long been considered above the park’s capacity to support it, as female productivity was relatively low (7.6 calves/100 females; Parks Canada Agency 2010c). Currently, the population is estimated at about 140 (John Gosse and Laura Siegwart Collier, Parks Canada Agency, pers. comm.), a density of about 4 individuals/10 km2 which is still very high compared to the amount of good quality habitat available in the park.

Moose population growth and its potential impact on ecosystems is not unique to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland national parks, similar developments have also been observed in the greater Gaspé ecosystem and in Forillon National Park.

Situation in the greater ecosystem of Forillon National Park and in the park itself

The large ecosystem concept was developed to take into account the influence of the management of peripheral territories on the maintenance of the ecological integrity of a national park (Hébert 2009). It is essentially a landscape that includes a protected area surrounded by a peripheral territory whose boundaries are usually determined by a particular conservation issue (Woodley et al. 1998). For the purposes of moose management in Forillon National Park, the large ecosystem was defined by Hunting Area No. 1, established by the province of Quebec to manage sport hunting in Gaspésie.

Hunting Area No. 1

Figure 1. Hunting Area No. 1

Figure 1. Hunting Area No. 1
Source: Ministère des ressources naturelles et de la Faune du Québec, 2007.

Figure 1 shows a map of the entire Gaspé Peninsula. The map indicates the boundaries of Hunting Area No. 1. This area extends from Mont-Joli to Gaspé.

In this large ecosystem, moose management strategies implemented as early as 1994 by the Ministère du Loisir, de la Chasse et de la Pêche du Québec, and forest management strategies of the Ministère des Ressources naturelles du Québec have proven to be very effective and have resulted in a steady increase in the moose population. In about twenty years, the moose population has increased from 1 individual/10 km2 in 1992 to between 10 and 20 individuals/10 km2 in the Gaspé Peninsula and even to more than 40 individuals/10 km2 in certain sectors such as the Matane and Dunière wildlife reserves (Lamoureux et al. 2007), before being reduced to about 10 individuals/10 km2 in the last 10 years (except in wildlife reserves where it is maintained around 30 individuals/10 km2, Dorais 2017, Dorais and Lavergne 2017, Roussel-Garneau and Larocque 2020). Since moose are a highly prized big game animal in the Gaspé Peninsula (Lamontagne and Lefort 2004), they are heavily hunted in the vicinity of Forillon National Park and, since the early 2000s, there has been a marked increase in the number of moose harvested within five km of the park boundaries (Figure 1).

Number of moose harvested within 5 km of Forillon National Park boundaries (1980 and 2020)

Figure 2. Number of moose harvested within 5 km of Forillon National Park boundaries

Figure 2. Number of moose harvested within 5 km of Forillon National Park boundaries (1980 and 2020)
Source: Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec.

Figure 2: Graph of the number of moose harvested within park boundaries between 1980 and 2020. This number was fewer than 10 individuals between 1980 and 2003. The number climbed to about 50 individuals beginning in 2018.

In Forillon National Park, aerial surveys carried out during the first years after the creation of the park (1970) showed that the moose population seemed to consist of about 50 individuals (i.e. about 2 moose/10 km2, Figure 2). Surveys conducted from 1982 to 1997 showed that the population had gradually increased to about 135 individuals, or 5.5 moose/10 km2 (Comeau et al. 2006). Subsequently, a survey conducted in 2009 showed that the population had greatly accelerated its growth and reached about 440 individuals, or a density of almost 18 moose/10 km2 (Lahaise et al. 2010). This trend was confirmed in 2017, when another inventory showed that the population had doubled again (35 moose/10 km2). However, observations made during the most recent aerial surveys (2020 et 2023:  approx. 22 moose/10 km²) show that long-term growth would be less pronounced than predicted by the 2017 surveys and that a decline may even have begun.

 

Evolution of the moose population in Forillon National Park (1973 – 2023, aerial surveys)

Figure 3. Evolution of the moose population in Forillon National Park

Figure 3. Evolution of the moose population in Forillon National Park (1973 – 2023, aerial surveys)

Figure 3: Graph of moose numbers within park boundaries between 1973 and 2023. This number fluctuated between 50 and 150 individuals between 1973 and 1998, reaching about 830 individuals in 2017. In 2023, the population is approximately 520 individuals.

Hyperabundance and its stakes for Forillon National Park

Causes of moose hyperabundance

If moose have been able to reach such levels of abundance in Forillon National Park, it is essentially because there is no mechanism to regulate their population (predation, hunting, lack of food, disease and parasites). Indeed, by the time Forillon National Park was being planned, there had been no wolves (Canis lupus, a major predator of moose) south of the St. Lawrence River for many decades (since the beginning of the 20th century; Jolicoeur 2003). Moreover, as soon as Forillon National Park opened (in 1970), hunting was prohibited and the two decades that followed were marked by the spruce budworm outbreak that rejuvenated the forest stands, making them more productive in terms of food. Finally, no disease or parasite has been documented and has not been intense enough to stop the growth of the population.

Absence of a major predator

Wolves are the main natural predator of moose in Eastern North America (Ballardand Van Ballenberghe 1997). The role and importance of wolf predation as a regulatory factor for moose has been debated in the scientific literature, but it is common to see a correlation between wolf and moose abundance, and a reduction in adult moose survival when wolves are present (Ballard et Van Ballenberghe 1997, Franzmann 2000). With the exception of Isle Royale, Michigan, areas of high moose density in North America are generally characterized by an absence of predators, particularly wolves (Karns 1997).

Although not listed as a potential predator of moose in the literature, coyote (Canis latrans) predation is occasionally reported. One such case was actually observed in the winter of 2014 in Forillon National Park. In spite of this, and given the current state of knowledge, it is unlikely that this species has a significant influence on the abundance of moose populations in general, as well as on that of Forillon National Park in particular.

The photo shows a dead female moose lying by the side of a road inside Forillon National Park. This is an unusual case of coyote predation, observed in the winter of 2014 after heavy snowfall.
Uncommon case of coyote predation, observed in the winter of 2014 after heavy snowfall in Forillon National Park.

The role of black bear (Ursus americanus) predation in moose population control is less well known than that of wolves, but we do know that they primarily prey on newborns, especially during the first 4-6 weeks of life (Ballardand Van Ballenberghe 1997 and 2007, Schwartz and Franzmann 1991, Bowyer et al. 2003), which limits their ability to influence the abundance of most moose populations. Bears are opportunistic predators and their role as a predator will vary depending on the availability of other food sources, so it is unlikely that bears will play a significant role in regulating most ungulate populations (Zagerand Beecham 2006). Under certain circumstances, however, black bear predation can help maintain ungulate populations at relatively low density levels. For example, up to 90% of newborns in some moose and elk populations may be victims of predation, and up to 50% of mortality may be caused by black bears, particularly when bear density exceeds 2 bears/10 km2 (Zagerand Beecham 2006). However, the density of the bear population in Forillon National Park was estimated between 2.3 and 5.4 bears/10 km² between the late 1990s and 2020 (Leblanc and Huot 2000, Pettigrew 2017, Parks Canada 2023b). As such, it is possible that black bear predation helped maintain the moose population at the density level observed between the early 1970s and late 1990s, but this is unlikely and clearly did not prevent the moose population growth observed between 1997 and 2017.

The fact that hunting is prohibited within the boundaries of Forillon National Park also helps to increase the abundance of moose. In general, areas with high moose densities are free of predators and have little or no hunting activity (Karns 1997).

Abundance of food

Moose generally thrive in young forests that have been disturbed (Timmermann and McNicol 1988). The highest densities are observed in mixed forests (Brassard et al. 1974, Joyal 1987, Crête 1988), and in stands disturbed by fire, insect outbreaks, logging, and windfall (Krefting 1974, Peek et al. 1976, Timmermann and McNicol 1988, Loranger et al. 1991), as these stands provide numerous deciduous shrubs that are an abundant source of quality food for moose (Timmermann and McNicol 1988, Crête 1989, Forbes and Theberge 1993).

The ecosystems within Forillon National Park are essentially composed of mixed boreal forests. Logging is prohibited and fires have been carefully controlled for nearly a hundred years. From 1925 onwards, active suppression measures and public awareness campaigns on the dangers of fires became increasingly effective, so that there have been no major fires since the late 1940s and no natural fires have been observed on the territory of Forillon National Park since 1974 (Parks Canada Agency, 2008). However, 25-30% of the land (approximately 6,300 ha, Del Degan et al. 1995a) were disrupted during the last spruce budworm outbreak of the 1970s-80s, as well as by a few small-scale windfall events. These disturbances helped to rejuvenate the forest stands and thus provide moose with an abundant food source in addition to that available elsewhere in the park.

Consequences of moose hyperabundance

Potential loss of ecological integrity

Various studies from around the world make it clear that high ungulate densities can dramatically alter not only forest regeneration, but also the composition, density and diversity of understory herbaceous plants (Russell et al. 2001, Rooney and Waller 2003, Tremblay et al. 2006). Ungulates directly affect their growth, reproduction and survival by consuming certain plants. Selective browsing by ungulates indirectly favours species that are resistant to this type of disturbance at the expense of those that are under greater browsing pressure or are less resistant to its effect. Because they consume some species more than others, at high densities they change the composition of shrub and herbaceous strata, shifting diverse plant communities dominated by tree and wildflower seedlings to simplified plant communities often of recalcitrant plants such as ferns and grasses that prevent the establishment of typical ecosystem species (Royo et al 2006). Therefore, in hyperabundance, ungulates are key herbivores capable of threatening both forest regeneration and biodiversity (Nuttle et al. 2014).

Moose are large herbivores with varying dietary requirements depending on subspecies, age, sex and season, but are capable of consuming up to 20 and even 30 kg of vegetation per day (Schwartz et al. 1984, Sæther et al. 1992, Burton 1998). The ability of moose to alter vegetation and forest dynamics when present in high densities is therefore real and has long been known (Peek 2007, Parks Canada Agency 2010bc). Ecological impacts associated with high densities range from changes in soil chemistry (Pastor et al. 1993) to altering the trajectory of forest dynamics (Risenhoover and Maass 1987, Thompson et al. 1992, Connor et al. 2000, De Vriendt et al. 2021). The composition and abundance of understory plants is also altered by intensive browsing, favouring some species over others more valued by moose (Parks Canada Agency 2010b).

For example, Pastor et al. (1993) reported that on Isle Royale, Michigan, where moose were maintained at relatively high densities over an 80-year period, some species such as mountain ash (Sorbus sp) maple (Acer sp), trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides), and white birch (Betula papyrifera) were more abundant inside exclosures (in place for 40 years) than outside them. In addition, excessive browsing had created relatively open stands of white birch and white spruce (Picea glauca) (Peek 2007). Brandner et al. (1990) estimated that a reduction in density to less than 20 moose/10 km2 was necessary to allow balsam fir stands (Abies balsamea) to regenerate on Île Royale.

The forest’s difficulty in regenerating is also related to the browsing pressure exerted by the moose population on young trees in Gros Morne National Park. For example, only 25% of stands that have been intensively browsed by moose are able to regenerate, and in the remaining 75%, the almost total absence of regeneration transforms the stands into open areas. In comparison, 90% of stands regenerate properly outside the park where moose densities are much lower. The open canopy in the park makes stands particularly vulnerable to wind and insect disturbance (Parks Canada Agency 2010b).

In Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the impacts of moose on boreal forest regeneration have been well documented by Parks Canada and external researchers over the past 20 years (Smith et al. 2015). These have shown that forest regeneration has failed over large areas due to excessive browsing by moose. A high proportion of key boreal species, such as balsam fir and white birch, have been severely affected and are still unable to grow tall enough to be out of reach of moose. An analysis of satellite imagery even indicates that 11% of the total park area that was formerly covered by healthy boreal forest has been converted to habitat dominated by the herbaceous stratum.

The loss of forest canopy is likely to directly influence other plant and animal species that rely on forests for shelter and food. Also in Cape Breton, a 2014 bird survey showed a high incidence of pioneer species that prefer open habitats, while conversely, species that inhabit forested areas, were found at very few sites. This is consistent with results from Gros Morne National Park, which indicate that excessive browsing by moose can lead to significant long-term changes in forest bird communities (Rae et al. 2014); Similarly, and for the same reasons (habitat loss), the American marten (Martes americana) and the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), both listed as endangered in Nova Scotia, are in serious trouble (Nova Scotia American Marten Recovery Team and Nova Scotia Lynx Recovery Team 2006). The ecological integrity of the entire forest ecosystem is therefore threatened.

In Forillon National Park, the increase in the moose population since 1997 and the potential impacts related to the hyperabundance of a large herbivore suggest that the territory may also see its ecological integrity deteriorate.

Emergence of a parasite

Although no disease or parasite has occurred in sufficient intensity to regulate the moose populations described above, there is considerable evidence that the winter tick (Dermacentor albipictus), which has always been present throughout North America in a variety of habitats, especially where they are frequented by moose, is currently expanding in Eastern Canada. This small parasite is likely to infect large cervids and to be present in large quantities on the same host. Parasite load varies with the sex and age of the host, but it also happens to be correlated with the density of moose in a given territory (Samuel 2004).

Increased interactions between winter ticks and moose are a recent phenomenon in Eastern Canada. Its influence on the ecology of moose populations is not well known (Samuel 2007, Wilmers et al. 2006). However, it appears that in addition to withdrawing a large volume of blood and causing chronic anemia (Musante et al. 2007), ticks have multiple effects on the behaviour of infected individuals. Over time, these effects damage the coat (Samuel 1991), alter its insulating capacity, increase heat stress (Glines and Samuel 1989), and, in the extreme, would cause individuals to lose weight, decrease their alertness to predators (Mooring and Hart 1995), and increase neonatal mortality in calves (Garner and Wilton 1993). In short, this type of parasite can therefore have consequences on the physical status and, ultimately, on the reproduction and survival of certain species (here, moose; McLaughlin and Addison 1986, Musante et al. 2007, Samuel 2007, Bergeron and Pekins 2014, Jones et al. 2019, Debow et al. 2021) not well suited to its presence in the boreal region.

In recent years, the prevalence of the winter tick has increased in the Gaspé Peninsula, adding a potential mortality factor that is likely to affect the dynamics of the moose population in Forillon National Park (Dorais and Lavergne 2017).

The need to monitor moose populations

The rapid population growth of moose between 1997 and 2017 and the potential impacts associated with the hyperabundance of this large herbivore justify the need for rigorous monitoring of not only population trends but also the long-term impacts of moose browsing on the forest ecosystem.

However, methods of monitoring large ungulates, based primarily on aerial surveys, are costly in terms of both human and financial resources. Moreover, contrary to the public territory or other structured provincial territories (wildlife reserves and ZECs), the fact that there is no hunting in the park does not enable the collection of indirect information on the evolution of populations (moose harvesting data), which is generally complementary to traditional inventory data. This type of data is much less expensive to acquire and allows for a longer time frame for measures such as aerial surveys, which require more resources. There are other indirect methods, also relatively inexpensive, and Forillon National Park has chosen to test one of them (Random Encounter Model (REM), see below, the “First Management Plan Initiative Results,” chapter in the “Indirect Monitoring Measures” section).

In spite of the trends observed in the greater Gaspé ecosystem and in the current state of knowledge, the significant differences that exist between the management of the peripheral territories and that of Forillon National Park limit the possibility of having a clear idea of the evolution of the park’s moose population based on hunting data from the periphery. Forest harvesting is causing a significant rejuvenation of the forests on the periphery of Forillon, while the park’s forest tends to age. In the long term, habitat will become increasingly different between the park and the rest of the greater ecosystem, unless major natural disturbances occur (such as the new spruce budworm epidemic that is underway in the Gaspé Peninsula). The challenge lies in the ability to effectively monitor the moose population over the long term, while remaining within the limits imposed by dedicated human and financial resources.

Legal and policy context for managing hyperabundant species

In the event of a hyperabundant species occurrence, Parks Canada has an internal directive that facilitates decision making and guides actions to manage the problems that may arise from the hyperabundance. Developing a management plan that complies with Government of Canada legislation and Parks Canada policies and requirements is among the actions recommended by this directive.

This section of the management plan describes how the Parks Canada Directive on the Management of Hyperabundant Wildlife in Parks Canada’s Heritage Places (Parks Canada Agency 2019) applies. This directive defines the criteria for determining when a population becomes hyperabundant, and sets forth the principles, processes, and methods appropriate for active and adaptive management of this situation, as well as the responsibilities associated with it.

General framework

The policy applies in the various areas protected by Parks Canada: National Parks, National Park Reserves, National Marine Conservation Areas, National Marine Conservation Area Reserves, Rouge Urban National Park. It also serves as a guide for national historic sites. National park legislation stipulates that the preservation or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, is the first priority in all aspects managing these ecosystems (Canada National Parks Act 2018) as in Forillon National Park. However, before initiating procedures that would lead to the implementation of management measures, it is essential to ensure that the animal population in question is indeed hyperabundant.

In this management framework, a hyperabundant population of a wildlife species is defined as a natural or naturalized animal population that, because of its excessive numbers, has a predicted or evidence-based long-term impact on species at risk, ecological integrity, or the ecological sustainability of a territory or marine area under Parks Canada’s jurisdiction.

Main principles

Parks Canada’s management of hyperabundant wildlife populations must be effective, collaborative, practical and evidence-based. It must apply the principles of adaptive management and comply with the Agency’s policies on humane treatment of wildlife, public and staff health and safety, and consultation. These key principles require that Parks Canada:

  • take effective management actions based on the causes of the hyperabundance, including the evolutionary, cultural, economic, historical, and regional context;
  • use evidence to determine when and how to manage hyperabundant wildlife populations, while recognizing that there are elements of uncertainty and knowledge gaps;
  • monitor and report on the results of these management actions to guide adaptive management;
  • proactively manage hyperabundant wildlife populations by taking action to prevent or respond promptly to adverse impacts on species at risk, ecological integrity and sustainability when evidence of adverse impacts is available;
  • mobilize Indigenous peoples and communities with traditional ties to the land and water, and contribute to the process of reconciliation through relationships based on recognition of rights, respect and cooperation.
  • work with partners and other jurisdictions to minimize the effects of hyperabundant wildlife populations within our borders and beyond;

Management approach

The general approach to managing hyperabundant species in national parks begins with the development of a management plan to set and document the strategic and operational direction for protecting species at risk, ecological integrity, and ecosystem sustainability. This management plan must include the following:

  • data on known or anticipated impacts on species at risk, ecological integrity or ecological sustainability;
  • a description of the decision-making process, including the evidence collected, the assumed strength and weight of each, the management options considered, and the elements of uncertainty;
  • a description of management options and their respective weightings, aimed at reducing the impacts of hyperabundant wildlife populations;
  • an assessment of the likely effects of managing hyperabundant wildlife populations on existing or proposed measures for the management of species at risk in the protected heritage site;
  • an assessment of the likely effects of managing hyperabundant wildlife populations on socio-economic conditions in and around the protected heritage site;
  • an implementation plan for the selected management option;
  • a description of the means used to measure and monitor results;
  • a description of the consultations and engagement of Indigenous peoples;
  • a description of the involvement of communities, partners and stakeholders;
  • a communication plan.

Parks Canada’s obligations to maintain ecological integrity

What is ecological integrity?

According to the Canada National Parks Act, “ecological integrity” is “a status that is determined to be characteristic of its natural region and likely to persist, including abiotic components and the composition and abundance of native species and biological communities, rates of change and supporting processes. In other words, ecosystems have integrity when the elements that make them up and the processes that influence them (e.g., fire, flooding, predation) are intact and evolving naturally.

General perspectives

Ecosystems are parts of a larger ecological whole that is constantly changing over time. They live through perpetual changes, of variable amplitude and duration, sometimes according to characteristic rhythms whose subtleties it is important to grasp. The ecological integrity of ecosystems must therefore be assessed and eventually managed according to the space-time realities in which they have evolved. Indeed, managing a national park (or one of its natural components) must take into account the historical and biogeographical context that shaped it, so that the park in question does not become reclusive, forced to function in isolation from the rest of the ecological entity to which it belongs.

Our obligations

Given the broader context and perspectives surrounding the concept of ecological integrity, Parks Canada has an obligation to seek to maintain or restore key ecological processes that reflect the natural conditions of the environments for which it is responsible, and to do so through appropriate management and conservation strategies.

If the ecological integrity of an area is threatened by the presence of a species that has become hyperabundant as a result of a deterioration in the natural mechanisms for regulating its numbers (as is possibly the case in Forillon National Park, whose integrity is threatened by the moose, in the absence of wolves), the Parks Canada Agency has the obligation to adopt management and conservation strategies that would make it possible to bring the abundance of this species back to levels that would reflect the natural conditions of the environment, so as to ensure the long-term maintenance of all its components. These strategies should mimic the role of natural processes as closely as possible. In addition, the trigger for eventual control of a hyperabundant population should not be based solely on population abundance objectives. It must be based primarily on achieving objectives related to maintaining the ecological integrity of the affected ecosystem.

Cultural context, local interest groups and public safety

Today, the moose remains emblematic in Quebec’s popular culture and, even though a small minority of the Quebec population still hunts moose, this practice continues to be significant for many communities, particularly in the Gaspé Peninsula where it is estimated that moose hunters represent approximately 16% of the local population. All hunters in the Forillon sector, regardless of their affiliation, are subject to the same management and ethical rules as all other hunters residing in Quebec who practice this activity in the Gaspé hunting area (Area 1, see Figure 1). Since they seem to have good harvesting success in the vicinity of Forillon National Park, they express the desire to keep it. Both hunting and non-hunting groups within the local population have shown interest in all aspects of managing the region’s largest game animal and, in accordance with the requirements of the Directive, have been met and invited to public consultations during the development of this management plan and prior to its final adoption.

Local interest groups

The Micmac community of Gespeg, the Regroupement des personnes expropriées et leurs descendants, the Association chasse et pêche de Gaspé and the Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs - Secteur Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine, the City of Gaspé and the elected representatives of the various neighbourhoods, as well as groups such as the Table de concertation de Cap-aux-Os and the Centre culturel le Griffon, and more broadly, the local communities that encompass many users of the park and its surroundings, are all stakeholders for Parks Canada. They were all invited to give their views on the situation. The groups that are more sensitive to nature protection and conservation issues were also interested in expressing their opinions (e.g., Nature Conservancy of Canada, Nature Québec, the Société pour la nature et les parcs, the Conseil régional de l’environnement de Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine). Finally, other regional entities involved in wildlife management and in the operation of structured territories, especially when they have a conservation vocation (e.g.: Parc national de la Gaspésie, Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec), were considered as valuable partners and collaborators, essential to the coherence and success of the initiatives of this management plan.

Public safety

All of the local interest groups shared their opinions and concerns about issues related to the hyperabundance of a large animal like moose. Among them, an abundant moose population can generate public safety issues. Indeed, the presence of these animals on roadsides increases the risk of collision and mortality for both the vehicle occupants and the animal. It is easy to understand that the number of accidents and road fatalities is directly proportional to the volume of road traffic, vehicle speed and moose abundance (Child 1997). Several relatively simple but sometimes costly solutions are available to ensure the safety of both humans and moose. Some studies have shown that lowering speed exponentially reduces the risk of wildlife strikes (Kloeden et al. 1997), fencing with one-way moose-proof openings, combined with other means such as adding wildlife crossings under or over the road with improved lighting, could reduce accidents by 70% and up to 95% in fenced areas (Child 1997, Bouffard et al. 2012, Lee et al. 2012). Furthermore, across North America, moose mortality from road collisions (including trains) accounts for approximately 6% of the number of moose harvested annually by hunting and can have a real impact on the abundance and distribution of local moose populations (Child 1997).


Outline and results of the first moose management plan

The first moose management plan was developed in Forillon National Park in 2013 (2013 – 2017, Sigouin et al. 2013) to begin implementing some monitoring of the moose population and its effects on the park’s ecological integrity, primarily to determine if the species was becoming hyperabundant based on criteria established by the directive at the time (Directive 4.4.11 – Parks Canada Agency 2007). This reflection was a follow-up to the 2009 population survey. The following paragraphs summarize the actions and results that resulted.

Choice of the moose situation as a measure of the integrity of Forillon National Park

Due to its position in the trophic chain and because of the impacts it can generate on the composition and structure of plant communities, the moose is considered a species playing a key role in the natural evolution of the forests of Forillon National Park (Lahaise et al. 2010). In fact, the value of certain parameters characteristic of the status of the demographic status of the moose population (“Population density,” “Sex ratio,” “Productivity,” here identified as “submeasures”), can give an index of the level of ecological integrity of the environment. The situation of the population evaluated through these submeasures was therefore chosen as one of the measures of integrity of the forest ecosystem in the ecological integrity monitoring program of Forillon National Park (Sigouin et al. 2008) and then used to develop the first management plan (Sigouin et al. 2013).

To rationalize the approach, a literature review established a baseline for comparing the level of submeasures against certain integrity thresholds (Sigouin et al. 2008). In Table 1, which presents this baseline, we note that a situation or state judged “GOOD” in relation to these thresholds is indicated in green, a state judged “FAIR” in yellow and a state judged “POOR” in red.

Table 1. Thresholds used to determine the status of moose sub-measures up to 2020

Submeasure Integrity status
Poor Fair Bon Fair Poor
Density (moose/10 km2) < 2 2 - 4 4 - 8 8 - 10 > 10
Sex ratio (M:F) < 50 / 100 50 - 80 / 100 > 80 / 100 - -
Productivity (young/100 females) < 10 10 - 30 30 - 60 60 - 80 > 80

The submeasures were also assessed between 1982 and 2009, along with the accumulated abundance data, so they could be compared to these thresholds later on (Table 2, from Samson et al. 2011). In addition to the population growth observed between 1997 and 2009, and despite a significant increase in productivity, the sex ratio had declined sharply during this period. Based on the numbers obtained for these two submeasures (Density and Sex Ratio), the overall status was rated “POOR” in 2009 (Table 2). Population growth had been attributed to the absence of significant predation, while the imbalance in sex ratio was likely caused by the high harvest of males on the periphery of the park (Lahaise et al. 2010).

Table 2. Results of aerial moose surveys conducted in Forillon National Park in 1982Footnote1, 1990Footnote2, 1997Footnote3 and 2009Footnote3

Year Population densityFootnote4 (moose/10 km2) Sex ratioFootnote5 ProductivitéFootnote5 Tendance de la mesureFootnote6
Males Females M/100 F Young Young/100 F
1982 6.0 ± 0.4 17 41 41 23 56 ?
1990 4.4 ± 0.3 17 27 63 6 22
1997 5.5 ± 0.4 36 47 77 10 21
2009 17.9 ± 1.4 50 153 33 50 33

Other considerations

As of 2013, the park’s ecological integrity monitoring program was still too new and the collection of additional data (population surveys, monitoring of browsing effects, implementation of exclosures) too embryonic to get a complete picture of the real situation in the park. The main findings were that the population had undergone a rapid growth phase between 1997 and 2009, that in 2009 the density of moose had exceeded the thresholds established for a “Poor” state of integrity (Samson et al. 2011), and that harvesting moose in the periphery had likely affected the sex ratio of the population. However, it was not known whether this growth would continue over the long term, the extent to which peripheral hunting was influencing park population abundance, the extent to which moose densities observed in 2009 were influencing forest dynamics, or whether significant effects on plant community composition and structure were beginning to occur.

As a result, it became important to continue and intensify the data collection, to plan the implementation of complementary protocols to collect the missing information and to adequately communicate the information in order to obtain the support of the public and the partners involved in the process. The first moose management plan for Forillon National Park was specifically developed for this purpose and contained the following recommendations.

Recommendations issued and initiatives implemented from 2013 to 2017

Considering the situation of the population in 2009 and the apprehended effects on the evolution of the forest ecosystem of Forillon National Park, these are the actions that were specifically retained for the period 2013-2017.

To obtain data on moose and their effects on ecological integrity

Recommendations Initiatives (Dates)
Conduct another aerial survey and browsing survey in the short term to determine if population growth was being maintained and to determine the status of the vegetation in moose winter concentration areas (also known as “yards”) Aerial survey (2017) Second browsing survey in the winter concentration areas (2017)
Build a network of exclosures and implement a vegetation monitoring protocol in collaboration with Université Laval. Set up 8 exclosures and 8 controls (2013 and 2014) browsing surveys, regeneration, diversity over time (conducted in 2014, 2018 and 2020 (browsing only))
Develop a strategy of research projects including developing indirect monitoring measures to track long-term population fluctuations, assessing the impact of hunting on the variation in abundance and composition of moose populations in Forillon National Park, and evaluating the extent of the spillover effect from the Forillon National Park population to adjacent territories. Indirect REM monitoring (2015) Hunting impact assessment (2017)

To establish hyperabundance criteria and validate management measures

Recommendations Initiatives (Dates)
Create a working group composed of species management, conservation, ecological monitoring and information specialists from Parks Canada, representatives of conservation services and external relations from Forillon National Park, and external representatives (provincial department responsible for wildlife and parks, researchers specialized in wildlife ecology and plant community dynamics, local interest groups, hunters’ associations, etc.). Working group (Since 2013, ongoing)

For a good communication

Recommendations Initiatives (Dates)
Develop a communication plan on the issue of moose management in Forillon National Park and on the measures that should be implemented during the targeted period. Communication plan (2014)

The rigorous monitoring of the moose population in Forillon National Park and its potential impacts on ecological integrity were priority actions to determine if the species could be considered hyperabundant. In fact, the recommendations led to the implementation of the initiatives presented below.

Results of the first management plan (2013-2017)

Aerial survey

In 2017, thanks to efforts undertaken to establish collaborative relationships with provincial authorities with the goal of achieving savings by combining available resources, a new aerial survey was conducted with the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs and the Société des établissements de plein air du Québec (Sépaq)-Parc de la Gaspésie. The method used for this survey is comparable to that used for previous surveys. It is also based on the one established by Plante et al. in 1991, but it contained only one survey as opposed to two or three, without any negative impact on the results (Courtois 1996, Sebbane et al. 2013), with some parameters adjusted to keep the data comparable (Lahaise et al. 2010, Parks Canada 2018) and that they are representative of the Forillon National Park territory. However, population densities estimated in this survey may be conservative, as they were in 2009 (Parks Canada 2018).

Thanks to this overview, which covered the entire territory, the usual sub-measures (population density, sex ratio, productivity) were estimated and then analyzed in relation to the integrity thresholds proposed by Sigouin et al. (2008; Table 3).

Table 3. Results of aerial moose surveys conducted in Forillon National Park in 1982Footnote1, 1990Footnote2, 1997Footnote3, 2009Footnote3 and 2017Footnote4

Year Population density Footnote5 (moose/10 km2) Sex ratioFootnote6 ProductivityFootnote6 Measurement trendFootnote7
Males Females M/100 F Young Young/100 F
1982 6.0 ± 0.4 17 41 41 23 56 ?
1990 4.4 ± 0.3 17 27 63 6 22
1997 5.5 ± 0.4 36 47 77 10 21
2009 17.9 ± 1.4 50 153 33 50 33
2017 34.4 ± 1.7 158 325 49 83 25
A “GOOD” status is indicated in green, a “FAIR” status in yellow and a “POOR” status in red.

The moose densities observed since 2009 in Forillon National Park clearly exceed the thresholds established in 2008 and the uncertainty that prevailed in 2013 regarding the continuation of the population’s growth has been resolved: the population has continued to increase rapidly. Because all individuals were sexed and age-ranked in 2017, sex ratio and productivity results are more robust than before (Parks 2018). The sex ratio remains strongly biased in favour of females (about 1 male to 2 females) and productivity is relatively low.

Browsing inventory (winter concentration areas and exclosures)

The 2013-2017 Moose Management Plan (Sigouin et al. 2013) mentioned the need for vegetation monitoring to be able to detect the effects of moose browsing on forest vegetation. Consequently, two types of surveys were implemented and monitored over time: browsing surveys in yarding sites to get a better idea of the browsing rate in intensive use areas, and vegetation surveys in a system of exclosures and controls in order to obtain a better representation of the entire park territory.

Since 2009, browsing surveys are conducted in the yarding sites following each aerial moose survey. Summary analyses of the data from these surveys show that browsing levels are still high, but no differences in browsing rates (relative to total availability) were detected within yarding sites for either coniferous or deciduous species. Upon further investigation of the distribution of yarding sites in 2017, it appears that the number of yarding sites has increased in parallel with the number of moose, their distribution in the park has increased park-wide, and the average number of moose per yarding site has remained relatively stable over time (Figure 4, Table 4). In fact, it seems consistent and logical that the browsing rate has remained comparable within the yarding sites over the years, despite the increase in moose abundance in Forillon National Park.

Distribution of moose yards during the winters of 2009 and 2017 in Forillon National Park

Figure 4. Two geographic maps showing Forillon National Park and a comparison of the distribution of moose yards

Figure 4. Distribution of moose yarding sites during the winters of 2009 and 2017 in Forillon National Park

Figure 4: Two geographic maps showing Forillon National Park and a comparison of the distribution of moose yards during the winters of 2009 and 2017. As the number of moose increased, so did the number of yards.

Table 4. Number of yards and moose per yard in 2009 and 2017 in Forillon National Park

Year 2009 2017
Number of yarding sites 89 161
Average number of moose/yarding site 3.28 3.52
Standard deviation of moose/yarding site 3.08 4.10
Maximum number of moose per yarding site 16 25

This was confirmed in the 2020 and 2023 surveys (see Parks Canada 2022 and 2023a).

The photo shows one of the walls of an exclosure which is made up of metal posts and a wire mesh approximately 8 feet high (cattle wire), intended to reveal the impact of moose browsing on the forest vegetation in Forillon National Park. It is located in a coniferous forest, it measures 400 m2.
One of the 8 exclosures set up in Forillon Park in 2014.

 

From 2013 to 2014, a network of 8 exclosures and 8 matched controls was established with the goal of measuring the effect of moose browsing on vegetation. Data was taken in 2014 after establishing the network, and then an initial remeasurement took place in 2018. Analysis of these data has shown that a trend seems to be emerging, particularly for certain species preferred by moose. Preliminary results indicate that, for all species, the rate of browsing in the controls increased between the two sampling periods, which are only 4 to 5 years apart, so the system is effective. However, this does not necessarily mean that the vegetation is over-exploited by moose. Other analyses on the same data indicate varying trends of increased browsing in controls for many species, including beaked hazelnut, red maple and mountain maple, which are among the species most sought after by moose. Of note, the exclosures and their respective controls were established in forest outside of a pest area and thus represent the effect of moose browsing during the snow-free period in areas with forest canopy limiting rapid plant response. In addition, these exclosures can be used as benchmarks to compare the composition and structure of the forest and herbaceous strata in order to develop direct indicators of ecological integrity.

Development of indirect monitoring measures

The photo shows a large male moose photographed in the middle of the forest when it accidentally passed in front of a digital camera (hunting camera) installed in 2015 in Forillon National Park.
Moose photographed by a digital camera randomly placed in Forillon Park.

In a 2015 bear study project conducted in the territory of Forillon National Park, a survey method using randomly placed cameras was tested (Pettigrew et al. 2021). This method, named REM for Random Encounter Model offers the advantage of not requiring any bait. In addition, unlike other camera-based techniques, individual recognition of detected animals is not required to obtain an abundance estimate. The results obtained for the park’s bear population were particularly interesting (Pettigrew et al. 2021), and because moose were also found in the photos, the method was also applied to this species (Pettigrew 2017).

The results estimated the moose population at 29.3 (± 6.1-7.3) individuals/10 km2, which is comparable to the projections made by Lahaise et al. (2010) for 2015, and is within the confidence interval of the growth curve obtained in 2013. Although accuracy could be improved, the REM method provides a realistic density estimate (Pettigrew 2017) and could be used to monitor moose population density in the park more frequently.

Hunting impact assessment

The evolution of moose populations in Forillon does not appear to be independent of that observed in the park’s greater ecosystem. In both cases, the significant increase in the population coincides with the implementation of moose hunting management plans that began in 1994. In addition, the sex ratio observed in 2009 in Forillon National Park (33 males (M)/100 females (F)) was relatively similar to that found outside, in the Gaspé Peninsula, before the hunt. This suggests that hunting influences population dynamics, with the expected proportion of males at birth generally being 50% of newborns (100 M/100 F, Schwartz 1997). The observed 2017 sex ratio of 49 M/100 F may be related to the fact that hunting terms and conditions allowed the killing of more females in the greater ecosystem in an effort to rebalance the sex ratio (Dorais and Lavergne 2017). This interpretation remains to be confirmed, however, as the deviation between the number of males and females outside the park has continued to widen (2007: 41.9 ±10.2 M/100 F, 2017: 20.1 ±8.0 M/100 F; Dorais and Lavergne 2017). An analysis of data from 1998 to 2008 revealed that of the 154 moose harvested within 5 km of the park boundary, 70% (n=108) were bulls that likely frequented both territories. However, this study did not find a clear link between the sex ratio observed in the park and hunting terms and conditions (Chamberland and Sigouin 2017). Unless an as yet unknown natural cause of mortality is significantly influencing males more than females, the specific harvest of males on the periphery of the park may be one cause of the sex ratio misalignment observed since 2009. Further investigation is therefore required in this regard.

In their report on the state of the park, Comeau et al. (2006) pointed out the large number of hunters who set up blinds and stands on the edge of the park during the hunting season, and that the relatively small size of the park, combined with the high mobility of moose, made the population particularly vulnerable to hunting on the periphery. Labonté et al. (1995) demonstrated the existence of a “spillover effect” of peripheral hunting on moose populations found in structured territories in Quebec (e.g., wildlife reserve, provincial park). The magnitude of this spillover effect was dependent on the deviation in between the protected area and the surrounding hunting grounds and was primarily felt in the first 5 km on the periphery of the structured area. The deviation in density between the park (35 moose/10 km2) and the adjacent hunting area (10 to 20 moose/10 km2; Dorais and Lavergne 2017) in 2017 was in the range of 15 to 25 moose/10 km2. It is therefore likely that part of the harvest on the periphery comes from the dispersal of individuals outside the park.

It is likely that the variations in the structure of the moose population in Forillon National Park are influenced by the operation terms and conditions used in the greater Forillon ecosystem. Confirmation of this hypothesis would, however, require a thorough analysis of the available data.

Create a working group

Since 2013, one of the priorities has been to create a working group tailored to the realities of the park. Formerly made up of a few members of the park’s own Natural Resources Conservation Department, this group is constantly changing to take into account changing circumstances and needs in terms of managing the issue.

It is currently composed mainly of Forillon National Park employees with the exception of Jean-Pierre Tremblay.

  • Mathieu Côté, Manager of Resource Conservation at Forillon National Park
  • Daniel Sigouin, Ecologist Team Leader at Forillon National Park
  • Marie-Ève Murray, Public Relations and Communications Officer at Forillon National Park
  • Pierre Etcheverry, Conservation Project Coordinator at Forillon National Park
  • Jean-Pierre Tremblay, Full Professor at Université Laval in Wildlife Management and Conservation
  • Bruce O’Connor, Interpretation Coordinator at Forillon National Park

A member of an Indigenous community (to be determined) should be included in this working group. Other people and organizations have been and will continue to be called upon as the reflections that feed into this management plan progress.

Develop a communication and consultation plan?

The success achieved by provincial sport hunting managers in releasing their first moose management plan in the mid-1990s is an example that the Forillon National Park team followed as early as 2014, when a first communication plan was developed (Devoe, 2014). This document already indicated that the management of the moose population in Forillon National Park would be a major challenge and that it was important to involve the various partners of the local communities. Furthermore, at the time, public safety issues related to moose accidents on Highway 197 were already a concern.

In 2019, an external communication plan (2019-2020) related to the development of this Management Plan for the hyperabundant moose population in Forillon National Park and an action plan were developed and implemented. The initial communication steps consisted of publicly announcing the moose situation in Forillon National Park, the adoption of a moose management plan as a concrete gesture to identify and implement the best possible strategies to effectively manage the moose population in Forillon National Park. They emphasized the proactive and innovative nature of this first plan, which aimed at monitoring the moose population and its impacts on the park territory and its surroundings. Moreover, collaborations and expertise sharing with other national parks, universities, Sépaq, the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec, etc., as well as public consultations were also brought to light. These steps targeted Canadians, especially the Gaspesian population and, more specifically, that of the greater Gaspé, the Mi’gmaq Nation of Gespeg as well as local and regional partners (tourist, economic, educational, etc.).

The Report on Communication Activities (2022) confirmed that the communication objectives of the communication plan were met. The results, both qualitative and quantitative, were significant and conclusive. Today, the issue that moose represent in Forillon National Park and the measures that should be put in place to manage their abundance remain crucial elements justifying the pursuit of a communication strategy.


Continuation of work and state of ecological integrity of Forillon National Park

The status of ecological integrity objectives is examined primarily through three demographic variables of the moose population (density, sex ratio, and productivity) that are directly characteristic of the status of the population and, indirectly, can provide valuable clues to its impact on the vegetation. These three variables have been used in the past to establish thresholds by which Parks Canada is able to evaluate the state of ecological integrity of Forillon National Park (Parks Canada 2011, 2018, 2022 and 2023a).

Review of ecological integrity thresholds

During the implementation of the ecological integrity monitoring plan (Sigouin et al. 2008), the thresholds were set with the assumption that the expected state of integrity should reflect a situation where the moose population was in dynamic equilibrium with predation (see Tables 1 and 2). Since then, in light of the knowledge acquired in recent years that confirms that our population would be more in dynamic equilibrium with the availability of its food rather than with predation, these thresholds have been revised. They are now based on the local response of vegetation to changes in moose abundance, and therefore on the ability of the environment to maintain a population in the absence of predation regulation (Parks Canada 2022).

In fact, the new baseline for integrity thresholds assumes that status should be considered “GOOD” when population density ranges from 4.0 to 10.0 moose/10 km2. A density <2 moose/10 km2 and >20 moose/10 km2 would indicate, respectively, a population decline or an increase resulting from the absence of predation and leading to significant effects on plant communities. Under such conditions, the state would be considered “POOR.” The “FAIR” level would be assigned to intermediate situations (Table 5).

In addition, sex ratio (M/F) and productivity (no. of calves/100 adult females), which were previously used as complementary sub-measures to moose density, will no longer be used as such, as their value and condition are highly dependent on density. From now on, sex ratio and productivity will only be used as indicators to assess the general trend in density, the only relevant measure available to judge the status of moose in the park. For example, low productivity when density is very high (i.e., when the status of the measure is rated “POOR”) would indicate, if the trend continues, that the moose population could eventually decline, and thus reach a density level that is preferable in terms of ecosystem integrity.

Table 5. New thresholds for determining the status of moose sub-measures

Submeasure Integrity status
Poor Fair/th> Bon Fair Poor
Density (moose/10 km2) < 2 2 - 4 4 - 10 10 - 20 > 20

From Parks Canada (2023a).

Addition of moose surveys carried out in 2020 and 2023 and status of the measure

Moose density has been increasing steadily since the late 1990s and despite the slowdown observed in the last survey, data show that it has been well above 20 individuals/10 km2 for more than 5 years, a level known to have significant effects on plant communities (Peek 2007). As for the sex ratio, it is currently unbalanced in favour of females, and productivity remains relatively low (Table 6). 

Table 6: Results of moose surveys (aerial and random camera) in 1982Footnote1, 1990Footnote2, 1997Footnote3, 2009Footnote3, 2015Footnote4, 2017Footnote4, 2020 and 2023. The colour of the cell in the table indicates the status of the measureFootnote5 according to the revised thresholds

Year Type Density (I.e. 80%)Footnote6 (moose/10 km2) Sex ratioFootnote7 ProductivityFootnote7 Measurement trend
Males Females M/100 F Young Young/100 F
1982 Aerial 6.0 (5.6 – 6.4) 17 41 41 23 56 ?
1990 Aerial 4.4 (4.1 – 4.7) 17 27 63 6 22
1997 Aerial 5.6 (5.2 – 6.0) 36 47 77 10 21
2009 Aerial 17.7 (16.8 – 18.5) 50 153 33 50 33
2015 Cameras 25.6 (18.8 – 31.2) - - - - -
2017 Aerial 34.4 (32.7 – 36.1) 158 325 49 83 25
Review of sub-measures and ecological integrity thresholds
2020 Aerial 22.5 (16.7 – 34.9) 66 140 47 37 26
2020 Cameras 29.3 (23.2 – 36.9) - - - - -
2023 Aerial 21.7 (20.6 – 22.7) 72 231 31 31 13

Status of the measure in relation to the revision of sub-measures and thresholds 

Analysis of the situation from 1982 to 2017

During the first three surveys, the population density was above the threshold of 4 moose/10 km² and below 10 moose/10 km² (Table 6). Consequently, the status of this sub-measure was rated "GOOD." Over the same period, the sex ratio increased from 41 M/100 F in 1982 to 77 M/100 F in 1997. Productivity, meanwhile, fell from 56 calves/100 F to 21 calves/100 F. The status of moose from 1982 to 1997 was therefore judged to be "GOOD" and improving overall.
In 2009, population density (around 18 moose/10 km²) exceeded the threshold of 10 moose/10 km². The condition of this measure has therefore been assessed as "FAIR" (Table 6). The sex ratio had fallen (33 M/100 F) compared with the previous period. However, despite this, productivity had risen (33 calves/100 F) compared with the ‘90s, suggesting that population density was set to increase further.  In fact, the overall state of the moose population in 2009 was judged to be "FAIR," and the trend was therefore judged to be "DOWNWARD," given the threat to ecological integrity that a further increase in density would entail. In 2015, results from the first camera survey estimated the moose population at approximately 26 individuals/10 km² (Pettigrew 2017), which is comparable to the projections made for 2015 by Lahaise et al. (2010). This population density was rated in a "POOR" condition. By 2017, moose density had nearly doubled compared to 2009 to approximately 35 moose/10 km² (Table 6). However, the sex ratio seemed to be gradually improving, standing at 49 M/100 F. On the other hand, although productivity was down again to 25 calves/100 F, it was likely to enable the population to maintain a high density level. The measure was therefore judged to be in "POOR" condition, and the overall trend maintained as "DOWNWARD."

Analysis from 2020 to 2023

In 2020, two additional surveys were conducted a few months apart. The aerial survey in early March showed a reduction in the population compared to 2017 with a density then estimated at 22.5 moose/10 km² (Table 6). In turn, the sex ratio and productivity are comparable to the results obtained in 2017. This decrease compared to 2017 could be interpreted as a stabilization of the population; however, this hypothesis remains to be confirmed. The second survey was conducted during the summer period, using cameras randomly distributed over the area in a stratified design as developed by Pettigrew (2017). He established a population density of 29.3 moose/10 km², which is consistent with the previous winter's aerial survey since the calves are born in the spring and are added to the summer count. Based on these observations, the status of the measure was rated "POOR" and the trend "STABLE." However, the 2023 survey clarified the situation. Indeed, the reduction in density observed during the 2020 aerial survey was significantly confirmed in 2023, with 21.7 moose/10 km². At the same time, both the sex ratio and productivity have declined significantly, suggesting that the decline in density observed to date is set to continue. In fact, the moose situation should gradually return to a level deemed "FAIR" (density should return to values between 10 and 20 moose/10 km²), so in terms of integrity, the trend would be upwards.

Effects of browsing on the ecosystem

Three sessions of browsing surveys were conducted in moose yarding sites (2009, 2017, and 2020) and three more in exclosures (2014, 2018, and 2020). Results from these data do not indicate a difference in browsing rates between years in the yarding sites, despite the fact that the population doubled over this period. This appears to be due to the fact that the average number of moose per yarding site has remained relatively stable and therefore the amount of browsing measured in these yarding sites remains high. In contrast, the number of yarding sites present in the park has nearly doubled (2009: 89, 2017: 161, Figure 4) thereby increasing the spatial distribution of browsing pressure (Parks Canada 2022).

In contrast, the exclosure design, which is aimed more at characterizing habitat use outside of intensive winter use areas such as yarding sites, showed a significant increase (by a factor of 12) in browsing rates over time in controls, plots to which moose have access (Figure 5). It also revealed a difference in browsing rates between exclosures and controls during the most recent surveys, confirming to us that the study design is working well (Parks Canada 2022). These results may be the first signs of the impact of moose overpopulation on the forest ecosystem outside of the yarding sites. They also support the idea that the thresholds established in this exercise are based on the carrying capacity of the environment rather than a dynamic equilibrium with predation.

Browsing rates (%) in control treatments in the exclosure network 

Figure 5. Graph of browsing percentage measured on vegetation present in the exclosure controls.

Figure 5. Browsing rates (%) in control treatments in the exclosure network (2014, 2018 and 2020 surveys)
Error bars represent the 95% confidence interval (Figure adapted from Parks 2022).

Figure 5: Graph of browsing percentage measured during the 2014, 2018 and 2020 surveys on vegetation present in the exclosure controls. The browsing rate, which was less than 0.5% in 2014, rose to nearly 4% in 2020, resulting in a significant increase in the impact of browsing on vegetation.

The current spruce budworm epidemic suggests that part of the forest canopy should die, that regeneration should be stimulated and that the already abundant moose could take advantage of this to increase their population again and could strongly alter the natural dynamics of the environment by consuming large proportions of the future generations of trees. This scenario could lead to large areas of normally forested land having difficulty regenerating over time, potentially leading to their conversion to open grassland.

Some early warning signs from the previous budworm outbreak were observed with a drone on mountain summits, observations that were followed by field validation and that are currently under scientific investigation.

We see in the foreground the summit of the mountain which is covered with forest and below more open areas. A moose is also visible at the border between these two types of habitats. In the background, we can also see other wooded areas and the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the background.
The photo is taken at a lower altitude, it presents a vertical view of a bare area and shows how the vegetation is sparse and stunted.
The photo is taken close to the ground from inside the bare area. It shows a lot of stunted shrubs, because heavily grazed, surrounded by dead trees (snags) and, in the background, another less bare mountain.
Mountain summit surveyed by drone followed by a field verification carried out in winter 2020 showing bare forest areas in which regeneration has been heavily browsed by moose.

Verdict on the ecological integrity of the environment

For reasons largely related to the presence and activities of humans (disappearance of the wolf, forestry activity), the moose population has increased significantly in Forillon National Park over the past 30 years. Currently, it exceeds 20 individuals/10 km2, a density considered equivalent to the carrying capacity of the boreal environment of eastern Quebec without major predators (Crête 1989). Exceeding this density is also known to have significant and disruptive effects on plant communities (Peek 2007), which will obviously vary from stand to stand, given the unique characteristics of each stand (composition, structure, age, etc.). Exceeding it by a wide margin as observed in 2017 and as has been the case in the recent past in other national parks in Eastern Canada, leads to the transformation of forests into open environments situations that these parks have experienced and had to manage, by taking action on both moose abundance and the habitat itself, in order to protect it.

In fact, for reasons resulting from the alteration of natural population regulation mechanisms, the size of the moose population has exceeded the ecosystem’s natural upper limit characteristic. Despite some signs of stabilization (see Status of the measure in relation to the revision of sub-measures and thresholds and Parks Canada 2023a), there is no reason to believe that the high-density situation will not persist, unless a regulating factor (predation, disease, parasite) or a natural catastrophe (e.g., consecutive abnormally harsh winters over several years) decimates the population to bring it back and then maintain it at low density, in the long term, which seems unlikely. As such, if measures are not taken to control this abundance, the ecosystem will be impacted to a greater degree than previous changes and the survival of species native to the park (including the Canada warbler (Cardellina canadensis) or Bicknell’s thrush (Catharus bicknelli) which are listed as protected species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA)) may be threatened.

Therefore, in accordance with Parks Canada’s Directive on the Management of Hyperabundant Wildlife in Parks Canada’s Heritage Places (Parks Canada Agency 2019), it is agreed that the moose population in the park is hyperabundant and the ecological integrity of the environment is threatened. Specific measures must therefore be considered in order to manage this situation.


Experiments previously conducted in eastern Canada

In Eastern Canada, several cervid populations have been identified as hyperabundant by various authorities involved in their management and, as a result, measures have been considered and eventually implemented to manage the ecosystems concerned. Although quite recent, these different experiences are interesting to analyze because they contain many details that inform us about their scope, their effectiveness and their impact, and provide food for thought regarding the situation encountered in Forillon National Park.

The case of the white-tailed deer on Anticosti Island

Towards the end of the 19th century, approximately 200 white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) were introduced to Anticosti Island located in Quebec in the Gulf of St. Lawrence River. Taking advantage of a suitable habitat and an environment without predators, they multiplied rapidly to reach very high levels by the 1930s. By 1935, it was noted that some species of deciduous shrubs, including chokecherry (Prunus pensylvanica), paper birch, trembling aspen, and mountain ash, once abundant, had been virtually eliminated by the deer. Many scientists subsequently reported the effect of intensive deer browsing on vegetation and indicated the urgent need to increase hunting removals (AIRIA Chair 2016). In 2013, the deer population was estimated at about 200,000 individuals, or about 250 deer/10 km2, and their hyperabundance had caused a decrease of about 50% of the fir forests on the island, with fir being replaced by white spruce (Labonté and Dussault 2011). Since then and until recently, the population appeared to be limited primarily by the availability of food resources and fluctuated with the severity of winters and large-scale forest dynamics.

In light of this situation, the provincial ministry at the time (Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune du Québec) set several long-term objectives for the management of Anticosti Island’s resources, including maintaining recreational hunting activities (the main economic activity on the island) and timber harvesting, as well as maintaining the current proportion of balsam fir forests and the island’s native biodiversity. To ensure the future of all the components of the environment, it became essential to develop land management methods that would promote the restoration of natural forest regeneration processes while limiting the abundance of deer. The chosen strategy included harvesting and forest management work as well building exclosures of varying sizes (3 to 30 km2) where deer density was reduced to prevent browsing and thus promote the regeneration of winter habitats. Scattered cuts were also made to allow better land accessibility and visibility for white-tailed deer hunters to improve their hunting success (AIRIA Chair 2016).

Exclosures are therefore a promising way to ensure the regeneration of ecosystems, provided that the density of deer inside them is reduced to about 70 individuals/10 km2, while protecting at least 4% of the territory (AIRIA Chair 2016). However, even with the infrastructure and facilities that exist today, sport hunting harvests less than 10% of the total deer population each year, which is insufficient to ensure effective control and adequate regeneration of the environment.

Note:

  • when exclosures are required to protect the environment, they can ensure the regeneration of ecosystems if they protect a sufficient percentage of the territory affected by the hyperabundance of a species
  • the hyperabundant species must be highly controlled or even eliminated, depending on the areas excluded
  • Sport hunting is an effective means of controlling a hyperabundant population and ensuring adequate regeneration of the environment, if the harvest removes a sufficient percentage of the total population of the target species

The case of the Forillon ecosystem

Considering the potential economic benefits of moose hunting, in the framework of a first management plan for this species (1994), the Ministère du Loisir de la Chasse et de la Pêche du Québec implemented hunting terms and conditions aimed at increasing populations, in particular by limiting the harvesting of females to ensure their protection. Within the large ecosystem of Forillon National Park, this strategy has proven to be particularly effective, allowing the population to increase almost tenfold in 25 years (Table 7), to reach the density targeted by the last management plan in effect, i.e., approximately 10 moose/10 km2 (before hunting). Throughout this period, however, the limited harvesting of females in favour of males resulted in a lower sex ratio and, to a lesser extent, lower population productivity (Table 7).

Table 7. Demographic characteristics of the moose population from aerial surveys from 1992 to 2017, in the greater Forillon ecosystem (Hunting Area 1 excluding wildlife reserves and national park)

Year Moose density (nb /10 km2) Sex ratio (nb Males /100 Females) Productivity (nb fawns /100 Females)
1992 Footnote1 1 ± 0 54 ± ? 66 ± ?
2000 Footnote2 4 ± 1 53 ± 6 48 ± 5
2007 Footnote2 8 ± 1 41 ± 10 59 ± 10
2017 Footnote3 9 ± 2 20 ± 8 35 ± 10

In response to this situation, provincial wildlife managers have chosen to stabilize the moose population at a level equivalent to that of the late 2000s in order to ensure a sustained yield, which also ensures that the habitat carrying capacity of Area 1, which had been established at approximately 20 moose/10 km2, is not exceeded (Lamontagne and Lefort 2004). By maintaining the population at a density equivalent to about half of this carrying capacity (i.e. 8 to 10 moose/10 km2), it was thought that the maximum sustained yield for the Gaspé moose population would be reached, i.e., conditions that would allow for a maximum removal of individuals without affecting the long-term maintenance of the population (Lamontagne and Lefort 2004). To this end, starting in 2004, provincial authorities chose to significantly increase the number of adult female permits allocated by lottery (Table 8; Lefort and Huot 2008). From 2008 to 2011, the annual harvest target even rose above 50 adult females per 100 adult males (Landry and Lavergne 2007) and has been maintained near these values since (Table 8).

Table 8. Parameters monitored for adult female moose hunting in Hunting Area 1 – Period 1999 to 2018

Year Number of adult female licences (excluding wildlife reserves and parks) Adult female harvest (including Wildlife Reserves) Success of adult female licences (%) Adult females in harvest (%)
MMPFootnote1 1999-2003 1999 800 285 36 14
2000 800 365 46 14
2001 1000 462 46 16
2002 1000 448 45 14
2003 1750 830 47 22
MMPFootnote1 2004-2010 2004 2300 1035 45 23
2005 2900 1089 38 24
2006 3400 1328 39 27
2007 3400 1556 46 30
2008 3700 1872 51 36
2009 3210 1896 59 35
2010 3260 1825 56 34
2011 3360 1724 51 33
MMPFootnote1 2012-2019 2012 3460 1564 45 29
2013 3560 1533 43 30
2014 3545 1562 44 29
2015 3770 1476 39 29
2016 3520 1376 39 28
2017 4270 1722 40 32
2018 4300 1598 37 31

This strategy has proven effective across Hunting Area 1. Indeed, according to Lefort and Massé (2015), the increase in the harvest of adult females has significantly slowed the growth of the population of Area No. 1. The rate of increase in the harvest of adult males decreased from 14% between 1999-2003 to 1% between 2004-2010. In some areas of the greater Forillon National Park ecosystem, population growth that had continued until 2007 (likely due to increased logging and the resulting increase in food abundance) then reversed, causing the population to return to lower density levels in 2012 (Table 9). As such, while the estimated moose density in Réserve faunique des Chic-Chocs has evolved in a similar manner to that measured elsewhere in the Gaspé Peninsula (Dorais and Lavergne 2010), the densities measured in 2007 in the Matane (multiplied by 2.5 in 12 years) and Dunière (multiplied by 5.5 in 12 years) wildlife reserves reached a peak of more than 40 moose/10 km2 (Lamoureux et al. 2007), before returning to around 33 individuals/10 km2, in 2012 (Lamoureux et al. 2012), a level considered safer to maintain some balance between this heavily exploited population and the carrying capacity of the habitat (MRNF 2008, Sépaq 2013). For reasons related to the importance of hunting activities, the provincial authorities have chosen to put in place the necessary terms and conditions to stabilize the population at a density deemed preferable of approximately 30 moose/10 km2 in these two territories (Sépaq 2013), terms and conditions that cannot be applied in a protected territory such as Forillon National Park. Although these areas have significant levels of logging that provide suitable habitat for moose, strong effects on vegetation have been observed (De Vriendt et al. 2020 and 2021).

Table 9. Aerial surveys of moose in the Gaspé wildlife reserves from 1995 to 2012

Year Moose density (nb /10 km2) Sex ratio (nb Males /100 Females) Productivity (nb fawns /100 Females)
Chics-Chocs Wildlife ReserveFootnote1
1995 4 ± 1 87 ± ? 66 ± ?
2002 11 ± 1 53 ± ? 39 ± ?
2010 11 ± 0.1 53 ± ? 39 ± ?
Matane Wildlife ReserveFootnote2Footnote3Footnote4
1995 20 ± 1 58 ± 37 45 ± 20
2007 48 ± 8 47 ± 9 48 ± 5
2012 33 ± 3 65 ± ? 33 ± ?
Dunière Wildlife ReserveFootnote2Footnote3Footnote4
1995 7 ± 1 74 ± 57 57 ± 50
2007 40 ± 4 38 ± 12 48 ± 10
2012 33 ± 5 68 ± ? 40 ± ?

Note:

  • Hunting is an effective way to control a hyperabundant population, especially when it targets those individuals that have the most influence on the population dynamics of the target species.
  • For an ungulate such as moose, management measures should focus on extending the hunting season and increasing the proportion of adult females in the harvest (MRNF 2008).

Gros Morne and Terra Nova National Parks

When Newfoundland experienced its period of moose hyperabundance in its national parks, park authorities explored, through a literature review (McLaren and Tom-Dery 2007), a variety of approaches used around the world to manage the impacts of hyperabundant ungulate populations. The authors assessed the factors that contributed to the success or failure of the measures implemented, and the different options identified were then presented and discussed with wildlife management specialists, land managers and First Nations representatives in several consultations (Parks Canada Agency 2010bc). The following options were considered:

  • Natural regulation (status quo)
  • Converting forest to species not edible to moose
  • Reintroducing predators
  • Moving moose to other territories
  • Fencing off areas to contain or exclude moose
  • Reducing population through fertility and birth control
  • Reducing population through control hunting
  • Relocating the moose by driving them out of the park (traditional Indigenous practice)

Based on the directive at the time, park authorities developed a set of criteria to analyze these options and then prioritize and evaluate the different approaches that could be applied. In the end, a pilot project to reduce the moose population through a control hunt was selected. As a result, significant population reduction measures were implemented as early as 2011 in Gros Morne and Terra Nova. Moose population control has spanned several years and is still active in both parks. Moose densities have been greatly reduced and, as a result, the forest is now regenerating. Many field observations confirm this trend (Tom Knight, Gros Morne National Park Forest Health Officer, pers. comm.).

Note:

  • Reducing a hyperabundant population through control (or conservation) hunting is an effective and reasonable option that has been proven to work in a national park setting.
  • Reducing a hyperabundant population of a large herbivore such as moose is an effective way to maintain forest ecosystems.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park

In Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Highlands National Park, moose browsing following the spruce budworm outbreak of the 1970s and 1980s has affected forest regeneration, resulting in the creation of grasslands in some areas of the park (Bridgland 2009). The problem was particularly severe in an area in the centre of the park. In the long term, the park risked becoming a barrier to migration between the north and south of the island for certain precarious boreal species.

As a result, park managers proposed work to improve connectivity between habitats in the moose-affected area through a combination of silviculture and control hunting (Bridgland 2009). Since moose seek out fir and white birch, planting white spruce was favoured because this species had already established itself on the plateaus due to past natural disturbances. Complete removal of moose from the work area required the removal of 5070 animals in the first year (2015) and approximately 10 per year in subsequent years until the fall of 2018. Currently, the density is estimated at 5 moose/10 km2 which is optimal for this park (Parks Canada Agency). 2019). This has allowed the young trees to survive and grow once they have been protected from moose browsing.

Note:

  • Opening up the environment may become a barrier to the movement of certain species that may be at risk.
  • Acting once environments are open requires multiple strategies in combination to restore the environment while controlling the hyperabundant species.
  • If properly and proactively addressed, forest environments are capable of recovering within a few years.

Possible measures to manage this situation

As the diagnosis is now established on the presence of a hyperabundant moose population whose impacts are just beginning to be felt on the forest ecosystem of Forillon National Park, solutions must now be considered. One possible way to deal with this situation would be the status quo, in which the natural regulation mechanisms would be left to their own devices. Conversely, it is also possible to intervene more actively, in a preventive manner, and to choose one or more of the options available to us, to ensure the maintenance of the ecological integrity of Forillon National Park. The following paragraphs discuss these different options (including the status quo), their characteristics, and their advantages and disadvantages in the context of Forillon National Park.

Is the status quo desirable?

As mentioned previously, various studies have established that high ungulate densities can dramatically alter regeneration and the composition, density, and diversity of understory plants in forests (Russell et al. 2001, Rooney and Waller 2003, Côté et al. 2004, Tremblay et al. 2006, Nuttle et al. 2014). Allowing natural regulation mechanisms work (status quo) is a strategy that would consist in not attempting any human intervention and letting the ecosystem self-regulate in the hope that, in the long run, it will maintain itself and eventually return to its equilibrium state or reach a new, completely different state. The studies cited here clearly indicate that this strategy does not work. In fact, applying the status quo led Gros Morne and Terra Nova national parks to the situations they faced in the late 2000s. They have experienced a loss of ecological integrity in the forest that has persisted in scope and magnitude over time, and restoration of some species or forest ecosystem processes that were severely affected by moose browsing has not yet been possible (Parks Canada Agency 2010bc). Even if habitat degradation caused the moose population to decline, as it did in Terra Nova, it could respond very quickly to a recovery of vegetation, limiting the return of the elements most affected by moose (Parks Canada Agency 2010c). Ungulate populations may also respond to habitat degradation not by reducing their numbers, but by reducing the size of the individuals that make up their population over generations (Lesage et al. 2001) or by modifying their reproductive strategy (Gingras et al. 2014).

Although moose are native to Forillon (unlike Newfoundland), several similarities with Newfoundland populations (e.g., absence of predators and forest harvesting) suggest that if moose densities requiring intervention were reached, the natural control strategy would most likely be ineffective in restoring integrity. Because national parks are protected areas representative of their respective natural regions, such an ecosystem conversion would compromise the very mission of the Agency.

Furthermore, considering the cascading impacts on species at risk and the biodiversity of the forest ecosystem, the status quo does not appear to be a preferred idea. To preserve and restore the integrity of the forest ecosystem of Forillon National Park, management measures will have to be developed and implemented in the relatively short term.

What are the possible management measures?

Several solutions to protect the habitat or to control the moose population in Forillon National Park are frequently invoked or proposed in similar contexts. Most of these are derived from approaches used here or elsewhere in the world to manage the impacts of hyperabundant ungulates. In the past, they have been examined to identify factors that have contributed to their success or failure (McLaren and Tom-Dery 2007), and then investigated by Gros Morne, Terra Nova and Cape Breton Highlands National Parks (Parks Canada Agency 2010b, 2010c and 2015) to select the most appropriate for their circumstances. These different options can be listed and defined as follows.

Forest conversion

Converting forests to less suitable environments for moose would mean temporarily transforming large forest patches into another type of forest, viable in our latitudes but less nourishing and unattractive to them, while their population returns to lower levels of abundance. This strategy would only make sense if the conversion leads afterwards to the reconstitution of one of the typical ecosystems of the cold winter temperate forests already found in the Gaspé Peninsula. It may involve site preparation and planting of species such as alder (Alnus sp.) or spruce which are plants that moose do not feed on or feed on very little. This should result in a mature spruce forest in the medium term. Once established, young balsam fir trees that are shade tolerant could be planted in the understory. If the moose population is maintained at a low enough density to allow fir to grow, the spruce top layer could be harvested to allow fir to become the dominant species in the stand.

Acceleration of forest aging

Young mixed forest stands are very popular with moose as they generally have an abundance of food available to them in all seasons. Allowing the forests to age to a less suitable stage in which the edible biomass is higher up, and therefore beyond the reach of moose, would be an alternative that, in the long run, should naturally reduce the number of individuals. In the regional context in which we find ourselves, this strategy would require rapid and large-scale intervention in Forillon National Park, with the aim of combating natural disturbances that have the effect of rejuvenating the stands. In this case, it would essentially be an attempt to counter the spruce budworm epidemic that is currently underway in eastern Quebec. Combined with this, it would also be necessary to stop prescribed burning initiatives and mechanically reduce the strata most accessible to moose to limit the amount of food available in the park.

Artificial moose feeding

When high densities of ungulates live on small areas of land, the degradation they inflict on the vegetation is quickly noticeable and the quality of the environment is strongly affected to the point where it can no longer support the ungulates living there. Zoos that house animals in enclosures with the intention of presenting these species in their natural habitat are very familiar with this problem. A common solution to this problem is to feed captive animals rich, abundant feeds in order to convince the animals to stop consuming the vegetation in their enclosure. The resulting easing of browsing pressure would allow the vegetation to recover. If used on a large scale, this measure would help protect forest regeneration, particularly in winter, in yards, but it would also increase moose survival and reproduction.

Moose containment or exclusion

In order to protect portions of habitat, it may be useful to confine or exclude wild ungulate populations to certain areas. In the past, fences have often been used for this purpose in different parts of the world. This technique is generally used in small areas and in combination with other control methods (McLaren and Tom-Dery 2007) because, although it has the advantage of preventing ungulate emigration or immigration, it still involves eradicating or managing the species within the areas targeted for exclusion.

Moose translocations

To perform this type of handling, the animals to be moved must first be captured and then transported to suitable sites to facilitate their survival, far enough away to ensure that they do not return on their own. This technique is generally effective in controlling relatively small and confined populations, but there are also ecological considerations regarding the capacity of the receiving environment, as well as ethical considerations regarding animal welfare.

Driving moose out of the park

Traditionally, different Indigenous peoples practiced a particular form of harvesting of certain ungulate species (notably caribou), which consisted of driving or keeping animals close to them while moving through the forest, sometimes over long distances. Based on this same principle, it would be possible to accompany moose outside the boundaries of Forillon National Park, which would help reduce the effect of grazing on the park’s vegetation.

Diffusing sounds or scents of moose predators (wolves)

Avoiding the sounds and scents of predators, especially to safer habitats where these signs of presence are not detected, has been observed in many mammalian prey species, e.g., in birds or small mammals, but also in large mammals (Apfelbach et al. 2005, Blumstein et al. 2008) including moose (Berger et al. 2001). It is therefore conceivable that the diffusing wolf sounds and scents in Forillon National Park could have the effect of forcing at least some of the moose to leave the park boundaries to occupy apparently safer territories.

Reintroducing a major moose predator (the wolf)

Wolves are the main predator of moose in most boreal regions. Several studies show a close relationship between the presence of wolves and the density of moose populations. They also show the possibility that wolves maintain moose at low density, well below the carrying capacity of the environment (Boutin 1992, Ballard and Van Ballenberghe 1997). In another context, the experiment conducted in Yellowstone where the wolf was reintroduced a few years ago in an ecosystem in which its main prey are large ungulates (Elk (Cervus canadensis) and Bison (Bison bison)), proved to be very interesting. In fact, it has clearly established the effects of reintroducing a major predator on large ungulate populations as well as surrounding forest environments (Ripple and Beschta 2012; Boyce 2018). On the basis of this research, the reintroducing the wolf could be considered an effective way to reduce moose populations in Forillon National Park and to maintain them in the long term at densities that would allow forest regeneration.

Biological moose control

Biological control is a method used against organisms considered as pests by means of other antagonistic living organisms. It is based, among other things, on the use of parasites or pathogens (viruses, bacteria, etc.) and aims to maintain the populations of the targeted organisms below a nuisance threshold. This type of approach has mainly been used to control invertebrate organisms, mostly insects. Only a few experiments with small mammal control have been attempted (e.g., wild rabbit control by myxomatosis). Promoting the occurrence, abundance, or transmission of parasites or diseases to control the abundance of a mammal the size of a moose would therefore be a first and has many challenges.

Moose fertility control

To limit the demographic development of already very abundant species, preventing or controlling reproduction by contraception can be an interesting avenue, because it is not lethal. First studied in zootechnics, this approach has been generating some interest in wildlife management in recent years. Potential contraceptive methods may include implants, oral chemical contraceptives, or immunocontraceptive vaccines.

Reducing moose numbers through conservation hunting

Harvesting ungulates by hunting is a common solution in many settings where the target species is hyperabundant or invasive. When it is done to protect a particular environment or other organisms that are affected by the abundance of the target species, it can be considered a tool for conservation purposes. In areas with fewer or no predators, this measure may compensate for the role of predators. In the Gaspé Peninsula, moose hunting is an important cultural practice that, like other similar hunts (Hothorn and Müller 2010), also has the potential to reduce the effects of browsing to facilitate forest regeneration.

Adjusting moose hunting terms and conditions on the periphery of Forillon National Park

Given the geographic location of Forillon National Park (peninsula) as well as its relatively small size (244 km2), the hunting that takes place in the immediate periphery and even on the scale of the Gaspé Peninsula would likely have a significant influence on the park’s moose. The results of the 2009 aerial survey suggest that it is changing the proportion of males in the population (see “Hunting impact assessment” above). In fact, adjusting the hunting terms and conditions practiced on the park’s periphery to encourage a higher harvest of adult females could contribute to slowing down the population’s growth and eventually reduce the abundance of moose in Forillon National Park.

Advantages and disadvantages of these management measures

All these options are more or less effective, more or less invasive or more or less expensive. Within the framework of this management plan and in order to respond to the specific characteristics of Forillon National Park, they could be implemented exclusively, consecutively or concurrently, according to numerous criteria such as their effect on the preservation of the park’s ecological integrity, their technical feasibility, the resources available or any criteria likely to help obtain a good level of social acceptability such as respect for the cultural context of the region.

Although most of these measures have been examined in the past by the authorities of other national parks in Eastern Canada, it was important to reassess them within the framework of the elaboration of this management plan in order to identify the most appropriate measure(s) that are best adapted to the ecological and socio-economic realities of Forillon National Park. To do this, we opted for a period of public consultation on the subject as well as a multi-criteria analysis based on the strengths and weaknesses of each of these options.

Public consultations on these management measures

Specifically on these aspects of the project, between January 2019 and May 2021, we consulted with Canadians, representatives of the Mi’gmaq communities, representatives of numerous interest groups and local communities. In fact, we consulted representatives:

  • from the Micmac Nation of Gespeg and the Mi’gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat;
  • the Regroupement de personnes expropriées de Forillon and their descendants;
  • the English-speaking community of Gaspé;
  • neighbouring communities (Cap-aux-Os, Cap-des-Rosiers, L’Anse-au-Griffon, Rivière-au-Renard, Saint-Majorique, Gaspé);
  • nature conservation organizations (Nature Conservancy of Canada, Nature Québec, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Conseil régional de l’Environnement de la Gaspésie et des Îles-de-la-Madeleine);
  • the Fédération québécoise de Chasse et Pêche- Secteur Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine;
  • government agencies (Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec, Société des établissements de plein air du Québec, Parks Canada);
  • the scientific community of Quebec (Université Laval, Université du Québec à Rimouski);

We consulted with them either directly through in-person meetings, at an expert workshop (November 6, 2019), using an online survey, or in the form of an open house open to the general public (February 12 and 13, 2020). The employees of Forillon National Park were also met.

From these consultations held between 2019 and 2021, a number of well-documented differences of opinion emerged in the comments received during the February 2020 consultations. Overall, adjusting hunting terms and conditions on the periphery of the park has the highest level of public approval (more than 75% of those surveyed are in favour) followed by conservation hunting within the park (60%). The other measures each receive lower proportions of favourable opinions (<35%). However, there are two opposing views regarding conservation hunting in the national park (for or against conservation hunting in national parks). In their comments, the people consulted who are in favour of a conservation hunt would like it to be a supervised and safe operation for the various park users and to reflect the vision and participation of the various interest groups. If this measure is adopted, some suggested that a portion of the meat harvested be distributed to local community organizations. On the other hand, there are those who view this solution as unacceptable and inconsistent with the mission of national parks. They would prefer the status quo or the reintroduction of a predator. If a hunt is adopted, they want the decision to be reversible. Along with these differing views, some feel that they have some kind of priority for moose harvesting.

These results enable us to approach the planned multi-criteria analysis with a better appreciation of public perceptions of the options available to us and therefore with better criteria for analysis of social and economic considerations.

Multi-criteria analysis

Method

The method used here is that of Hierarchical Multi-Criteria Analysis or “MCDA.” This method, created in 1970 by Thomas Saaty of the Wharton School of Business, was initially designed for human resource management considerations in companies. Today, it is used in various fields, including the environment, because it offers the advantage of allowing complex problems to be structured, different options to be compared according to numerous criteria, and decisions to be prioritized.

Within the framework of this management plan and in order to respond to the specific characteristics of Forillon National Park, all the options defined above had to be analyzed according to numerous criteria whose relative importance had to be evaluated beforehand in order to rank them appropriately. The results obtained allowed us to compare and rank these options in terms of their relative suitability to the conservation objectives and mission of the Agency, within the boundaries of Forillon National Park. This made it easier to make a choice and issue the final recommendations.

In practice, MCDA is divided into three main steps (Guesdon 2011):

  • Step 1: Description of the advantages and disadvantages of the options
  • Step 2: Identification of analysis criteria and sub-criteria, and prioritization
  • Step 3: Evaluate the options based on the identified criteria and sub-criteria

Each of these steps is detailed below.

Description of the advantages and disadvantages of the options

Each of the options listed above (see “What are the possible management options?”) has its own advantages and disadvantages depending on whether one looks at it from the point of view of the ecology of the environment, that of the communities that use it, or the operationalization of the actions to be taken. However, in view of this, it is important to keep in mind that Forillon National Park is a territory with a special status (that of a national park), quite different from the surrounding territories and, as such, any action or activity that could be undertaken there is subject to the respect of a certain mission, certain values, certain laws and directives, and a certain framework for the use of the logistical, financial and human resources that are available to it. These characteristics mean that the advantages and disadvantages of the options considered here may be different from those that would be identified in the surrounding areas. The following table (Table 10) summarizes for each option what, in the context of Forillon National Park, can be considered as an advantage or disadvantage, comments on these points of view where necessary, and presents the choices made by the other national parks in Eastern Canada.

Forest conversion (Measure 1) and accelerated forest aging (Measure 2) are effectively converting large forest patches temporarily to a less nourishing habitat type that is unattractive to moose while their population returns to lower levels of abundance. Moreover, these two options are very similar in terms of advantages and disadvantages. For these reasons, they were grouped together and considered as a single option in the rest of the analysis.

Table 10. Advantages and disadvantages of possible management measures

Management measures Advantages Disadvantages Comments and choices for other eastern national parks
Forest conversion
  • Non-lethal and non-invasive to moose
  • Positive impacts for some species
  • Helps to maintain a forest canopy
  • Potentially beneficial for the region
  • Very invasive for the ecosystem
  • Negative impacts on other species
  • Incompatible with maintaining ecological integrity
  • Very large scale project
  • Long-term intervention
  • Logistically and financially very complex to manage
  • Efficiency never demonstrated on such a large scale
  • Ethical and brand image issues
  • Local population generally not in favour
  • In Forillon National Park, fir forests occupy >70% of the park, compared to less than 3% for spruce forests (Del Degan et al. 1995a)
  • Conversion would have to be done on a very large scale and over a long period of time to have an influence on moose abundance
  • Option ruled out by other eastern national parks, no local support
Accelerated forest aging
  • Non-lethal and non-invasive to moose
  • Positive impacts for some species
  • Helps to maintain a forest canopy
  • Potential job creator for the region
  • Very invasive for the ecosystem
  • Negative impacts on other species
  • Incompatible with maintaining ecological integrity
  • Very large scale project
  • Long-term intervention
  • Logistically and financially very complex to manage
  • Efficiency never demonstrated on such a large scale
  • Ethical and brand image issues
  • In Forillon National Park, fir forests occupy >70% of the park, their natural succession goes through a regeneration stage that is very favourable to moose
  • Interventions should therefore be made on a very large scale of space and time to influence moose abundance
  • Not an option in other eastern national parks
Artificial feeding
  • Non-lethal and non-invasive to moose
  • Would improve moose survival
  • Minimizes impact on other animal species
  • Positive impacts on certain plant species
  • Helps to maintain a forest canopy
  • Potentially beneficial for the region
  • Local population potentially in favour
  • Would promote moose population growth
  • Very large scale project
  • Long-term intervention
  • Logistically and financially complex to manage
  • Efficiency never demonstrated on such a large scale
  • Degradation of environments near feeding areas
  • Other unpredictable impacts on ecological integrity
  • Artificial feeds have been developed specifically to maintain moose in captivity
  • Not an option in other eastern national parks
Confinement or exclusion
  • Non-lethal and non-invasive to moose
  • Positive impacts on certain plant species in certain locations (rare plants)
  • Prevents moose immigration
  • Helps to maintain a forest canopy
  • Proven effectiveness (over small areas)
  • Interferes with the migration of several other species
  • Increased pressure on the containment site
  • Logistically and financially complex to manage
  • Ethical and brand image issues
  • Local population generally not in favour
  • Very large scale project
  • Long-term intervention
  • Demonstrated effectiveness on a small scale, but in combination with other control methods (McLaren and Tom-Dery 2007)
  • Involves rotating animals between containment and exclusion areas
  • Prevents ungulate immigration, but involves eradication or management of the species within exclusion areas
  • Option ruled out by other eastern national parks, no local support
Translocation
  • Helps to maintain a forest canopy
  • Minimizes impact on other animal species
  • Proven effectiveness (over small areas)
  • Local population potentially in favour
  • Invasive and indirectly lethal to moose
  • Very large scale project
  • Recurrent intervention on a long-term basis
  • Logistically and financially complex to manage
  • Generates high mortality rates, in white-tailed deer, survival rates less than 25% the year after relocation (Bishop et al. 1999).
  • Option ruled out by other eastern national parks, too expensive.
Driving toward the outside of the park
  • Non-lethal and non-invasive to moose
  • Helps to maintain a forest canopy
  • Proven effectiveness (over small areas)
  • Traditional Indigenous practice
  • Local population potentially in favour
  • Does not prevent the from returning
  • Potential disturbance to other species
  • Very large scale project
  • Long-term intervention
  • Logistically and financially complex to manage
  • Not very compatible with the geographical reality of Forillon National Park (peninsula with sharp topography, only one exit bordered by a road)
  • Significant public safety issues
  • Option ruled out in other eastern national parks, too many logistics and too costly
Predator sound or scent diffusion
  • Non-lethal and non-invasive to moose
  • Helps to maintain a forest canopy
  • Local population potentially in favour
  • Potential negative impacts on other animal species
  • Project on a very large scale of space and time
  • Adaptation problems for target animals
  • Logistically and financially complex to manage
  • Other unpredictable impacts on preserving ecological integrity
  • Not very compatible with the geographical reality of Forillon National Park (sharp topography)
  • Few studies on the subject, lack of knowledge on the effect of these methods on large mammals
  • There is evidence in the literature for adaptation to sound repellents with prolonged or frequent exposure (Bomford and O’Brien 1990).
  • Not an option in other eastern national parks
Reintroduction of a major predator
  • Non-lethal and non-invasive to moose
  • Re-establishes a lost species in the Gaspé ecosystem
  • Helps to maintain a forest canopy
  • Proven biological and economic efficiency
  • Logistically and financially relatively simple to manage
  • Very punctual intervention
  • Negative impacts on other species
  • Negative impact on the Gaspé caribou
  • Low social acceptability, generally very controversial
  • Regional population rather not in favour
  • Significant effects demonstrated on the density of hyperabundant ungulate populations and on browsing of preferred plant species (Beschta and Ripple 2007, Hebblewhite et al. 2005, Ripple and Beschta 2012), as well as on the survival rate of females and young ungulates (Hebblewhite et al. 2005),
  • Option ruled out by other eastern national parks, social acceptability too low
Biological control
  • Proven biological efficacy in many small animals
  • Helps to maintain a forest canopy
  • Logistically and financially potentially simple to manage
  • One-time intervention (potentially recurring)
  • Lack of research and knowledge on the effect and effectiveness on large mammals
  • No existing method for moose, requires complete development
  • Potential negative impacts on other species
  • Difficult to control on a large scale
  • Local population rather not in favour
  • Other unpredictable impacts on preserving ecological integrity
  • Type of approach mainly used to control small invertebrates and mammals
  • Must be hyperspecific to target only moose
  • Not an option in other eastern national parks
Fertility control
  • Non-lethal to moose
  • Minimizes impact on other animal species
  • Helps to maintain a forest canopy
  • Local population potentially in favour
  • Demonstrated biological efficacy in many confined animals and on a small scale
  • One-time intervention (potentially recurring)
  • Relatively invasive to moose
  • Potential reproductive side effects
  • Potentially negative impacts on other species (predators and scavengers)
  • Project on a very large scale of space and time
  • Logistically and financially very complex to manage
  • Efficiency never demonstrated on such a large scale
  • Risk to public health if meat from treated animals is consumed
  • Other unpredictable impacts on preserving ecological integrity
  • Tests on white-tailed deer (Hobbs et al. 2000) have shown that a long-term program (>30 years) is necessary to achieve good results, that treating more than 50% of adult females results in population declines, and that effectiveness is lower in open populations
  • This method will be effective when treatments have a prolonged or permanent effect, but this is not the case at present except by means of surgery (McLaren and Tom-Dery. 2007)
  • Option ruled out in other eastern national parks, too many logistics and too costly
Reduction by conservation hunting
  • Minimizes impact on other animal species
  • Can compensate for lack of predator
  • Helps to maintain a forest canopy
  • Proven biological and economic efficiency
  • Potentially beneficial for the region
  • Significant food contribution to the region and community benefits
  • Logistically and financially relatively simple to manage
  • Local population generally in favour, deep-rooted traditional and cultural practices
  • Lethal for targeted moose
  • Very large scale project
  • Long-term intervention
  • Potentially high operating costs
  • Population outside the region or outside the Gaspé region potentially opposed
  • Long-term operation, which must be maintained relentlessly to be effective and sustainable (McLaren and Ton-Dery 2007)
  • Because ungulate females produce and generally raise their young alone, they represent the most important segment in terms of population dynamics (Mysterud et al. 2002), so the adjustment should encourage a higher harvest of adult females to slow the growth or even decrease the abundance of moose in the park
  • Option implemented in other eastern national parks
Adjustment of the hunting terms and conditions on the periphery of the park
  • Minimizes impact on other animal species
  • Minimizes interventions within the park territory
  • Proven biological and economic efficiency
  • Logistically and financially relatively simple to manage
  • Local population generally in favour
  • Lethal for targeted moose
  • Very large scale project
  • Long-term intervention
  • Significant regulatory constraints
  • Negotiation of agreements with provincial authorities to amend existing regulations
  • Population outside the region or outside the Gaspé region potentially opposed
  • Because ungulate females produce and generally raise their young alone, they represent the most important segment in terms of population dynamics (Mysterud et al. 2002), so the adjustment should encourage a higher harvest of adult females to slow the growth or even decrease the abundance of moose in the park
  • Not an option in other eastern national parks

Criteria and sub-criteria evaluation and prioritization

First, the set of criteria could be subdivided into three main groups: ecological criteria, human-related criteria, and those related to the economic and operational aspects of implementing the selected option. It should be recognized that these criteria are not equally important to Parks Canada’s objectives and mission. As such they were weighted accordingly by assigning them an arbitrary, but consistent, numerical value (Table 11). To do this, we used the following comparison matrix:

Table 11. Meaning of the values used for the weighting of the criteria

Criterion 1 Criterion 2
Scale of importance Weighting Scale of importance Weighting
As important 1.00 As important 1.00
Somewhat more important 3.00 Somewhat less important 0.33
More import 5.00 Less important 0.20
Much more important 7.00 Much less important 0.14
7 and 0.14 being the extreme values.
2, 4, 6 and their inverse values representing alternative values that can be used if necessary.

The operation of the matrix is simple, the more important the criterion, the higher the result. Conversely, the less important it is in relation to the one it is compared to, the lower the score.

For the purposes of this management plan, given the conservation objectives and mission of the Agency, ecological criteria were deemed to be the most important. Next come the human-related criteria, followed by the economic and operational criteria (see Table 12). However, the prospect of implementing certain environmentally acceptable measures can trigger significant negative reactions in our communities, jeopardizing the relationship with park staff, the sense of place, and Parks Canada’s own reputation. In these cases, the level of social acceptability (which is expressed through several criteria related to humans that are taken into account in this analysis) dominates all other aspects, and thus becomes preponderant over the other categories.

Following this weighting, a normalization exercise was desirable to obtain results in the form of percentages that facilitate the understanding of the relative importance of the criteria. This classification and standardization work is summarized in the following matrix:

Table 12. Evaluation of criteria in relation to each other

Criteria C1 C2 C3 Standardized weighting
Ecological (C1) 1.00 3.00 5.00 63.4%
Human (C2) 0.33 1.00 3.00 26.0%
Econo-Operational (C3) 0.20 0.33 1.00 10.6%
Total 1.53 4.33 9.00 100.0%

Within each broad category, there are criteria (called sub-criteria for analysis purposes) that also have different values in relation to each other. A prioritization, weighting and normalization exercise was therefore redone for the latter using the same arbitrary values (those in Table 11). Therefore, as illustrated in the tables below (Tables 13 to 15), to be selected, an option must meet the following criteria and sub-criteria (presented here in descending order of relative importance), which reflect:

  • from an ecological point of view, its ability to:
    • reduce threats to the structure and functioning of Forillon National Park’s ecosystems;
    • minimize the impact of this species on other species in the park;
    • preserve the biological and ecological integrity of the hyperabundant species;
    • use the biology and ecology of the hyperabundant species wisely;
    • mimic the natural mortality processes of the hyperabundant species;
    • have demonstrated its effectiveness on other populations of the species or similar species.

Table 13. Evaluation of ecological sub-criteria

Ecological sub-criteria C1.1 C1.2 C1.3 C1.4 C1.5 C1.6 Standardized
Reduce threats to ecosystems (C1.1) 1.00 1.00 1.00 3.00 3.00 5.00 25.6%
Minimize impacts on other species (C1.2) 1.00 1.00 1.00 3.00 3.00 5.00 25.6%
Respect the biological integrity of the species (C1.3) 1.00 1.00 1.00 3.00 3.00 5.00 25.6%
Use the biology of the species appropriately (C1.4) 0.33 0.33 0.33 1.00 1.00 3.00 9.5%
Mimic natural mortality processes (C1.5) 0.33 0.33 0.33 1.00 1.00 3.00 9.5%
Have demonstrated the effectiveness of the measure (C1.6) 0.20 0.20 0.20 0.33 0.33 1.00 4.3%
Total 3.86 3.86 3.86 11.33 11.33 22.00 100.0%
  • from a human perspective (including social, cultural, ethical, educational), its ability to:
    • minimize safety risks to those involved or not involved in the management initiative;
    • minimize the negative impacts on visitor experiences in Forillon National Park;
    • strengthen engagement and build healthy relationships with Indigenous peoples;
    • respect the cultural context of the implementation of the management initiative;
    • improve coordination with regional stakeholders with the same general objectives;
    • ensure ethical (humane) treatment of individuals in the Indigenous population.

All of these human aspects taken together give a good idea of the level of social acceptability that a measure is likely to achieve if it is retained.

Table 14. Evaluation of human sub-criteria

Human sub-criteriaFootnote1 C2.1 C2.2 C2.3 C2.4 C2.5 C2.6 Standardized weighting
Minimize safety risks (C2.1) 1.00 1.00 1.00 3.00 3.00 3.00 25.0%
Minimize the impact on the experience (C2.2) 1.00 1.00 1.00 3.00 3.00 3.00 25.0%
Strengthen Indigenous relations (C2.3) 1.00 1.00 1.00 3.00 3.00 3.00 25.0%
Respect the cultural context (C2.4) 0.33 0.33 0.33 1.00 1.00 1.00 8.3%
Improve relationships with stakeholders (C2.5) 0.33 0.33 0.33 1.00 1.00 1.00 8.3%
Treat animals ethically (C2.6) 0.33 0.33 0.33 1.00 1.00 1.00 8.3%
Total 3.99 3.99 3.99 12.00 12.00 12.00 100.0%
  • from an economic and operational point of view (costs, resources, technique, benefits), its ability to :
    • be feasible at reasonable costs;
    • be economically efficient (good cost/benefit ratio)
    • be technically feasible (without having to innovate to develop the technique)
    • take into account the human resources available locally (expertise, manpower);
    • take into account the material resources available locally (logistics, facilities);
    • Take into account the potential for local financial impact of the initiative.

Table 15. Evaluation of operational sub-criteria

Operational sub-criteria C3.1 C3.2 C3.3 C3.4 C3.5 C3.6 Standardized
Be feasible at reasonable costs (C3.1) 1.00 1.00 2.00 3.00 3.00 4.00 28.7 %
Be economically efficient (C3.2) 1.00 1,00 2,00 3,00 3,00 4,00 28,7 %
Be technically feasible, no innovation (C3.3) 0,50 0,50 1,00 2,00 2,00 3,00 17,0%
Take into account local human resources (C3.4) 0,33 0,33 0,50 1,00 1,00 2,00 9,8%
Take into account local material resources (C3.5) 0,33 0,33 0,50 1,00 1,00 2,00 9,8%
Take into account local financial benefits (C3.6) 0,25 0,25 0,33 0,50 0,50 1,00 5,9%
Total 3,41 3,41 6,33 10,50 10,50 16,00 100,0%

Once this prioritization is established, the two levels of weighting and standardization (criteria and sub-criteria) should be integrated by combining the results of the previous tables (see Table 16), to give a more accurate assessment of the relative importance of the criteria and sub-criteria through which the management measures will be compared.

Table 16. Evaluation of combined criteria and sub-criteria

Combination Standardized weighting Combination Standardized weighting Combination Standardized weighting
C1 x C1.1 16.2% C2 x C2.1 6.5% C3 x C3.1 3.0%
C1 x C1.2 16.2% C2 x C2.2 6.5% C3 x C3.2 3.0%
C1 x C1.3 16.2% C2 x C2.3 6.5% C3 x C3.3 1.8%
C1 x C1.4 6.0% C2 x C2.4 2.2% C3 x C3.4 1.0%
C1 x C1.5 6.0% C2 x C2.5 2.2% C3 x C3.5 1.0%
C1 x C1.6 2.7% C2 x C2.6 2.2% C3 x C3.6 0.6%

The criteria and sub-criteria identification and prioritization step was then used to evaluate the different management options.

Evaluation of the options based on the criteria and sub-criteria

A similar approach to the criteria analysis was used to evaluate the various management measures (options) against each other, using comparison matrixes. This time, we had to try to answer the following question: in relation to the sub-criteria of Group 1 (ecological criteria group), is Option 1 (Convert forests to less suitable environments for moose) equivalent to, somewhat better than, moderately better than, better than, or definitely better than Option 2 (Artificially feed moose to protect the forest)?

This type of comparison was done for each of the options and according to each of the sub-criteria, allowing us to know on which aspects the options are more efficient and on which other aspects they are less efficient. According to this methodology, the better the option, the higher the score, and vice versa. Table 17 shows the values used for the analysis and their meaning.

Table 17. Meaning of the values used for weighting the options according to the criteria

Option 1 Option 2
Scale of importance
Weighting 
Scale of importance
Weighting 
Equivalent 1.00 Equivalent 1.00
Somewhat better
3.00 Somewhat worse 
0.33
Moderately better
5.00 Moderately worse
0.20
Best 7.00 Worse 0.14
Definitely better
9.00 Definitely worse
0.11
9 and 0.11 being the extreme values.
2, 4, 6, 8 and their inverse values representing alternative values that can be used if necessary

As mentioned above, among the various options available, some represent special cases that are controversial, lead to polarized debates, or are likely to face low levels of social acceptability in some areas of our society. These particular options are as follows:

  • Reintroducing a major predator of moose (the wolf, Measure 8 ): essentially because this measure triggers the feeling that there would be risks to the safety of people (sub-criterion C2.1), as wolves are perceived as dangerous to humans, that there would be a very negative impact on the experience of visitors (sub-criterion C2.2) and park users or neighbours as people would be afraid to visit the park or would consider the wolf as a competitor for hunters. Furthermore, this option would not contribute to understanding the problem (sub-criterion C2.7), as people would be left with the idea that there would have been better solutions to control moose abundance.
  • Biological control of moose (Measure 9) : essentially because this measure also triggers the feeling that there would be risks to human safety (sub-criterion C2.1) because people would be afraid of a possible transmission of parasites or diseases to humans or other species, that there would be a very negative impact on the visitor experience (sub-criterion C2.2) because people would not like to see sick animals or find a lot of dead animals during their visits. This option would not contribute to understanding the problem (sub-criterion C2.7), as people would be left with the idea that there would have been better solutions to control moose abundance.
  • Reducing the moose population through a conservation hunt (Measure 11): mainly because this measure triggers the feeling that there would be risks to the safety of people (walkers, neighbours, sub-criterion C2.1), that there would be a very negative impact on the reputation of the Agency as well as on the visitor experience (sub-criterion C2.2), since people would be afraid to visit the park or would have the impression that the park is not fulfilling its mission. This option would also not contribute to understanding the problem (sub-criterion C2.7), as people would be left with the idea that there would have been better solutions to control moose abundance.

These realities were considered in a consistent manner in our final analysis. In fact, as with the criteria and sub-criteria, comparison matrices were developed and, after weighting, the results were standardized into percentages, resulting in the summary table below (Table 18).

Table 18. Summary of management measure evaluations

The evaluations are classified here according to the criteria and sub-criteria
Management measures Ecological criteria (%) Human criteria (%) Operational criteria (%)
C1.1 C1.2 C1.3 C1.4 C1.5 C2.1 C2.2 C2.3 C2.4 C2.5 C2.6 C2.7 C3.1 C3.2 C3.3
Forest conversion or aging 0.39 0.31 0.30 0.25 0.08 0.80 0.48 0.29 0.16 0.13 0.27 0.02 0.16 0.15 0.27
Artificial feeding 0.75 1.29 0.30 0.15 0.20 0.46 1.09 0.62 0.23 0.30 0.45 0.13 0.36 0.29 0.07
Confinement or exclusion 0.75 0.83 0.24 0.40 0.20 0.80 0.20 0.29 0.11 0.13 0.15 0.13 0.83 0.41 0.07
Translocation 1.80 1.49 0.10 0.29 0.20 0.29 0.10 0.14 0.08 0.30 0.05 0.13 0.16 0.05 0.03
Driving toward the outside of the park 1.80 1.44 0.15 0.48 0.20 0.14 0.48 0.62 0.23 0.30 0.15 0.13 0.55 0.29 0.07
Predator sound or scent diffusion 0.75 0.90 0.56 0.72 0.12 0.80 0.48 0.29 0.23 0.13 0.27 0.05 0.36 0.20 0.03
Reintroduction of a major predator 2.81 0.58 2.20 2.19 0.47 0.29 1.92 1.20 0.03 0.03 0.27 0.05 1.23 0.09 0.14
Biological control 2.81 2.54 1.09 1.08 0.12 0.80 0.20 0.08 0.04 0.06 0.09 0.02 0.16 0.05 0.03
Fertility control 4.34 3.10 1.09 0.48 0.20 0.80 0.48 0.14 0.11 0.06 0.09 0.02 0.36 0.04 0.03
Reduction by conservation hunting 4.34 3.91 1.09 1.08 0.88 0.14 0.20 1.83 0.65 0.61 0.15 0.13 1.74 0.59 0.27
Adjustment of hunting terms and conditions 1.17 5.35 1.09 1.08 0.88 0.80 0.48 0.62 0.36 0.19 0.27 0.13 0.83 0.59 0.14

After integrating the information from all the matrixes, the final result of the analysis is presented in a figurative form that allows for a better appreciation of the relative performance of each of the options in relation to all the criteria and therefore in relation to Parks Canada’s conservation objectives and mission, within the boundaries of Forillon National Park (Figure 5).

Relative performance of each option versus all sub-criteria combined

Figure 6. Relative performance of each option versus all sub-criteria combined.

Figure 6. Relative performance of each option versus all sub-criteria combined

In the form of a horizontal bar chart, Figure 6 shows the relative performance of each of the 11 management options analyzed versus all sub-criteria combined against which their performance was assessed.

Interpretation of results and discussion

Method limitations

As with any multi-criteria analysis method, MCDA has limitations that should be kept in mind when assessing the final results. A first limitation is that some of the criteria, their weighting and the evaluation of the different options are based on arbitrary choices and value judgments which, although partly supported by the available literature, bias the results. To minimize the effects of this problem, the comparison matrixes were developed in a working group and then peer-reviewed before being used in their final versions. Another weakness of this analysis is that the different options being compared here are very different in scale, complexity, and nature, making it difficult to compare them more objectively. Finally, the fact that the analysis was conducted at a particular time and in a particular ecological, socio-cultural and economic context is another source of potential bias. In fact, repeating the same process in a few years, following changes in the situation in Forillon National Park and the evolution of knowledge, sensitivities and customs of local communities, would probably yield different results.

Some options are much better than others

Within the limitations of the biases raised, of the 11 options tested, only four have the potential to perform significantly better with respect to the Agency’s goals and mission. At the top of the list, the reduction of the moose population through conservation hunting emerged as the most feasible option, particularly because of its relative performance in terms of its ability to reduce threats to ecosystems (sub-criterion 1.1: 4.34%), to minimize its impact on other species present in Forillon National Park (sub-criterion 1.2: 3.91%), to strengthen relations with the Indigenous communities (sub-criterion 2.3: 1.83%), to respect the cultural context (sub-criterion 2.4: 0.65%), to improve links with other local stakeholders (sub-criterion 2.5: 0.61%) and to be technically feasible and efficient in relation to the costs of implementation (sub-criterion 3.1: 1.74%).

Next was the adjustment of hunting terms and conditions on the periphery of the park, which stood out for its relatively good performance in minimizing its impact on other species (sub-criterion 1.2: 5.35%), minimizing risks to public safety (sub-criterion 2.1: 0.80%), strengthening relations with Indigenous communities (sub-criterion 2.3: 0.62%), and being technically feasible and cost-effective to implement (sub-criterion 3.1: 0.83%).

Reintroduction a major predator (the wolf) and controlling moose fertility were ranked third and fourth respectively, mainly for their relative performance on certain ecological (mainly for reintroducing a major predator) and human sub-criteria, less so for their ability to meet the operational criteria. All the other options had lower performance, mainly because of their poorer results in terms of ecological and operational criteria.

Synthesis

In the absence of a major predator, moose will continue to threaten the ecological integrity of Forillon National Park. There is little chance that natural regulation will succeed in limiting population growth to low enough densities that the ecosystem will not be drastically transformed and, as a result, certain species will not be in trouble and the preservation of the integrity of the forest ecosystem threatened. Forest conversion and forest aging seem to be far too invasive options for an ecosystem that we are trying to keep as intact as possible. They are also logistically and financially cumbersome to implement and require long periods of time to achieve results. Approaches using feeding, confinement, forced movement of individuals and birth or fertility control are mainly possible for small, closed and/or captive populations, which is not the case for Forillon National Park. The use of predator scent and sound and biological control (which has no public support) have never been considered for problems caused by a mammal the size of a moose. Consequently, there are too many uncertainties surrounding these options to be retained. As for reintroducing a predator such as the wolf, it may be effective from a strictly ecological point of view, but it would have repercussions well beyond the limits of Forillon National Park and would be very complex to implement in the environmental and social context of the park. For the moment, in addition to endangering the Gaspé caribou (an endangered species), this option is very controversial and has little support from the population. Finally, control by a conservation hunt is probably the most effective and least expensive method to implement, but it will require careful preparation, rigorous supervision, and close collaboration with many stakeholders to achieve its goal. Combining it with an adjustment of the hunting terms and conditions on the periphery of the park would also increase its chances of success.

The findings of this analysis therefore direct the Forillon National Park authorities towards controlling the overabundant moose population which, in the short and medium term, will be implemented only if necessary, and will take the form of conservation hunting. To be implemented responsibly, effectively and safely, the terms of this management measure are defined through the recommendations that follow.


Recommendations for 2023-2027

In Parks Canada, when an active management initiative is required to conserve natural environments and the species that inhabit them, it must be based on meeting objectives related to maintaining the ecological integrity of the ecosystem. It must establish targets in terms of the integrity of potentially affected plant communities, set an optimum density for the targeted hyperabundant population, and choose a realistic, consistent, effective, and adaptive approach that can be carried out successfully from both ecological and socioeconomic perspectives It is also imperative that it be coupled with additional scientific monitoring to ensure that it achieves the objectives set or, if necessary, that it be readjusted. Finally, it must be accompanied by other precautions that ensure that issues of environmental impact as well as the safety of those involved or visitors have been addressed, that the public has been consulted in a timely manner, and that, from a communications perspective, the information is clear, appropriately conveyed, accessible and educational.

The details of the selected management strategy and related initiatives to be implemented are the subject of numerous recommendations, which are grouped into six main areas, presented below.

Ecological integrity targets

Optimum moose density

When the last management plan was published (Sigouin et al. 2013), moose densities were interpreted using thresholds that assumed that the expected state of this measure should reflect a situation in which the moose population was in dynamic equilibrium with predation (Samson et al. 2011). However, in a context where for more than a hundred years this moose population has no longer been subject to predation by wolves, its dynamics seems to be determined by the presence of diseases or parasites, but also and above all by competition for food, so that the notion of the environment’s carrying capacity takes on its full meaning here. As a result, the appropriateness of these old thresholds was questioned and new thresholds were developed based on local vegetation response to changes in moose abundance (See Revision of sub-measures and ecological integrity thresholds, and Parks Canada 2022 and 2023a.).

In fact, the new baseline for integrity thresholds assumes that status should be considered “GOOD” when population density ranges from 4.0 to 10.0 moose/10 km2. With a density <2 moose/10 km2 or >20 moose/10 km2, the condition would be considered “POOR” and the intermediate situations would be assigned the “FAIR” level (see Review of ecological integrity thresholds, Table 5). The latest surveys carried out in Forillon National Park (2020 and 2023) indicate that the moose population is estimated at between 20 and 23 moose/10 km², so the status of the measure is rated "POOR" (see Situation analysis 2020 to 2023, and Parks Canada 2023a).

The objective is therefore to manage the moose population so that it returns in the medium term to an optimum density such that the status of the measure can be considered at least “FAIR,” at best “GOOD.”

Recommendation #1:

Inside the boundaries of Forillon National Park, implementing measures to control the hyperabundant moose population should contribute to the population density tending towards a level considered as “GOOD.” For this reason, in the medium term, it is important to progressively lower the density of this population and to maintain it thereafter at least between 10 and 20 moose/10 km2, at best between 4 and 10 moose/10 km2.

Potentially affected forest plant community integrity

On a regional, provincial and national scale, Forillon National Park today serves as a sanctuary for a variety of terrestrial plant species representative of the Notre-Dame and Megantic Mountains natural region. The forest should be typical of transitional areas between cold winter temperate and northern boreal environments. Under the dominant influence of regional and local climatic conditions, forest stands are expected to be divided into three main communities: yellow birch maple stand, yellow birch fir stand and white birch fir stand.

The composition and age structure of forest stands observed today are partly the result of insect pest outbreaks, forest fire control, and logging history. Coniferous and mixed wood stands are the most abundant habitats in the park, covering over 95% of the park’s land area. However, young stands and hardwood-dominated stands are in higher proportion than expected for the natural region that the park represents (Del Degan et al. 1995b). After the park was established and logging ceased, the ecological integrity of the forests improved somewhat with a gradual return of older forests and softwood dominated forest canopy (Del Degan et al. 1995b). However, this integrity remains difficult to fully restore, particularly due to ongoing forest fire suppression, and its future is uncertain as it is threatened by a hyperabundant moose population. Finally, like everywhere else, it is subject to the influences of climate change.

In any case, as determined by the Del Degan study (Del Degan et al. 1995b), a greater representation of softwood-dominated stands should be sought and this is the objective to be achieved through the current management activities of the park’s forest ecosystems. In the longer term, the advent of climate change could transform the territory by favouring the growth of increasingly leafy forests.

To verify where the territory of Forillon National Park stands in relation to the objective of obtaining a greater representativeness of softwood-dominated stands, indicator measures such as the dominance of species in the stand, their internal structure and the rate of decomposition at the soil level, were selected to draw up a portrait of the state of ecological integrity of forest plant communities. The data collected allow comparisons to be made between the observed situation and the historical forestry portrait of Forillon National Park as described in the study conducted in 2012 by the Consortium en foresterie Gaspésie-Les Îles (Perrotte-Caron and Pinna 2012). The goal here is to answer the following questions:

  • Is the dominance of key species in the tree layer different from that described in the historical forest portrait?
  • Are the average number of stems per hectare and the frequency of stem diameter classes different from the historical natural distribution?
  • Has the decomposition rate changed by more than 5% since the baseline period?

In order to assess the magnitude of the differences observed and their nature in relation to the integrity of the forest environment, thresholds were established to evaluate the values collected (see Table 19 below).

Table 19. Thresholds for monitoring the state of ecological integrity of the forest of Forillon National Park

Indicators Integrity thresholds
Poor Fair Bon Fair Poor
Species dominance - - Difference < 20% 20 – 30% > 30%
Internal stand structure - - Difference < 20% 20 – 30% > 30%
Decomposition rate ↓ > 10% ↓ 5 – 10% ↓ or ↑ 0 – 5% ↑ 5 – 10% ↑ > 10%

The objective is to manage the forest ecosystem so that forest dominance and internal stand structure show less than 20% difference from the historical picture for the integrity status to be considered “GOOD.” It is possible to allow certain species such as balsam fir, white birch, red maple (Acer rubrum), or Canada yew (Taxus canadensis) to recover and return to levels of abundance typical of our ecosystems.

Currently, the integrity status is considered “FAIR” and stable (Sigouin and Tremblay 2021), as although the internal structure of the stands appears to be doing well, the dominance of species is considered in a “POOR” but stable condition. As for the decomposition rate, it will only be evaluated in the coming years.

Recommendation #2:

The implementation of measures to control the hyperabundant moose population must contribute to the ecological monitoring effort conducted by Forillon National Park to achieve its objectives so that the state of integrity returns to “GOOD.” To do this, it is important to work with the entire conservation team and continue to conduct scientific investigations that track the effect of moose control on forest plant communities.

Operationalization of the selected management measures

Primary measure: conservation hunting

Removal targets

Removal objectives must be defined on the scientific basis of abundance surveys and analyses of the factors that influence the dynamics of the moose population in Forillon National Park. According to the latest surveys conducted in the park, the moose population should number between 500 and 550 individuals. In fact, gradually reducing this population to a density of no more than 10 to 20 moose/10 km2, or at best 4 to 10 moose/10 km2, and keeping it at this level over the long term, would mean that it would fluctuate around 250 individuals and be maintained around this number thereafter. This would mean, still in the long term, taking several hundred individuals over time, given the annual variations in abundance that can be expected.

Furthermore, given that the sex ratio is currently unbalanced in favour of females (31 M / 100 F, Parks Canada, 2023), the conservation hunt that is advocated will have to target females more specifically than males in order to re-establish a better sex ratio and reduce productivity to limit population growth. Thus, initially, the sampling could be aimed at adult females, after which an increasing proportion of males could be added, if necessary, until a sex ratio close to equilibrium (1M / 1F) is obtained. Removals from both sexes would be adjustable and adapted to the needs of the population.

Recommendation #3:

Within the limits of Forillon National Park, if the need is confirmed, the control of the hyperabundant moose population should be done through a conservation hunt adjustable according to needs. These operations could start with a pilot project to set up the logistics and have a relatively low removal target. In the longer term, after analysis of the results of this first intervention, the control program should be revised and adjusted.

Spatial distribution of hunting pressure

Ideally, hunting pressure should be distributed in such a way as to spread the removals over the entire territory of Forillon National Park. Thus, the ecological consequences of the control program could be evenly distributed throughout the park. However, since not all of the park is accessible, the distribution of hunting pressure will be highly dependent on the availability of roads and trails. In addition, for the safety of users and the visitor experience, the hunt itself should not directly interfere with other activities that normally take place in the park. Safety aspects will be developed below.

Consequently, within the boundaries of Forillon National Park, sectors that can be used for the control program or for other usual activities will be marked out based on various parameters such as the presence of moose targeted by the program, the existence of trails and other amenities, or the season. These areas could be alternately open or closed to the public, as appropriate.

Recommendation #4:

Within the park boundaries, mark and map areas that would form the geographic base unit for implementing the moose population control program. At the same time, consider the possibility of closing these areas to the public from time to time to allow for safe and effective moose control. Area mapping will also need to include a buffer zone around the perimeter of the park so as not to interfere with adjacent private and public areas that are already under some hunting pressure each year.

Start and duration of removal

A new aerial survey of moose will be carried out in winter 2025, covering the entire park territory. If the results of this inventory indicate that the population is once again growing, or that it has been maintained at density levels that are still considered to be very high, removal may begin as early as autumn 2025. On the other hand, if the population continues the decline observed since 2020, an in-depth analysis of the trend will have to be carried out in order to make an informed decision.

In terms of the duration of a potential removal, as long as the population shows signs of hyperabundance and observed trends indicate at least maintenance at high densities, the removal will continue over time. If, however, the moose population returns to a density level that is considered “GOOD” or if trends indicate that the population is likely to remain at a “GOOD” level, then the removal may be suspended until further notice. However, once the population is at a “FAIR” level (10 - 20 moose/10 km2), control measures will be adjusted accordingly if the impact indicators on vegetation are “GOOD.”

Recommendation #5:

Preliminary results from the latest aerial survey (February 2023) indicate that moose densities are still high but declining and that the decline is expected to continue over time. The possibility of a removal is therefore not planned for the short term. We will therefore have to wait for the results of the next aerial survey before authorizing the removal of animals. If a conservation hunt is ever conducted, then it should continue over time as long as the situation requires in terms of ecological integrity. Reserve the right to discontinue removal in less critical periods and resume it if necessary.

Removal framework

The conservation hunt that will be implemented in Forillon National Park will have to be administered by Parks Canada in collaboration with relevant partners to determine hunting periods, issue special permits, determine the number of hunters per group, organize and hold draws, collect the fees associated with these permits, and register the animals killed. It will preferably take place later than the periods that are usually determined for the practice of sport hunting in Gaspésie (e.g.: late fall and winter hunting).

This hunt will be conducted in accordance with the highest standards of human and animal safety, ecosystem protection and Parks Canada legislation. As such, it will be necessary to ensure that the animals harvested correspond to those targeted by the management plan. The hunters must use only firearms and ammunition suitable for this type of hunting to avoid excessive loss of wounded animals or pollution of ecosystems. The use of road and off-road vehicles will also be controlled and in accordance with Forillon National Park’s directives in this regard.

Recommendation #6:

Prepare to administer a conservation hunt, all aspects of which should be supervised, in close collaboration with local stakeholders who would be in charge of different aspects of this activity.

Local impact

The planned conservation hunt and all related activities (butchering, transportation, meat distribution, etc.) represent potentially significant local benefits to the region. To the extent possible, conservation hunting will be managed so that these benefits are passed on to local communities.

Recommendation #7:

Implement a control program to ensure that the benefits of conservation hunting and related activities benefit local communities.

Recommendation #8:

All the details related to the different aspects of a conservation hunt to be carried out within the limits of Forillon National Park should be the subject of an operationalization plan that will have to be developed before the beginning of the control program. Its contents should include:

  • numeric removal targets over a predetermined period of time,
  • number of special permits to be issued each year during that period,
  • start date and dates of the hunting periods for each year,
  • target clientele and eligibility regulations,
  • draw dates (if applicable),
  • fees associated with the right to hunt,
  • map of hunting areas,
  • regulations concerning the conduct of the hunt (groups, supervision, weapons, vehicles),
  • regulations regarding the registration of slaughtered animals and the disposal of meat,
  • partnership agreements with all parties involved in the control program,
  • collection of biological information on carcasses.

Secondary measure: Adjustment of hunting terms and conditions on the periphery of Forillon National Park

Ideally, implementing a conservation hunt within the boundaries of Forillon National Park should also be accompanied by an adjustment of the hunting terms and conditions on the park’s periphery. This would result in more consistent moose management between inside and outside the park, which would help the park achieve its moose population control objectives and improve the effectiveness of the control itself.

As an adjustment, outside the park boundary on a strip of land that could be up to 10 km wide, it may be useful to increase hunting pressure on adult females, at least for the duration of this management plan. Thereafter, depending on the results obtained, the adjustments could be maintained or revised.

Recommendation #9:

Work in close collaboration with the local authorities of the Ministry responsible for Wildlife in Quebec to adjust the hunting modalities in the periphery of Forillon National Park in order to carry out a coherent adaptive management and to facilitate the achievement of the objectives of controlling the hyperabundant moose population.

Scientific monitoring and adaptive management

In order to properly evaluate the effect of the selected management measures and, if necessary, to be able to correct them adequately, some scientific monitoring that has been going on for many years must be maintained and others, which have developed since the application of the previous management plan, must be continued. Finally, new and complementary research investigations should also be developed in order to have a complete picture of the situation and to better understand the reactions of the ecosystem in response to our management choices. Taken together, all of these investigations would allow for continued management of the situation by making evidence-based decisions and adjusting decision making based on the results.

Continue the investigations in progress

Continue moose surveys and harvest monitoring on the park’s periphery

Aerial surveys have been the preferred method for monitoring the moose population since the creation of Forillon National Park, as it is recognized as the best and most efficient method for obtaining an accurate estimate of population density and other measures (sex ratio, productivity). Using randomly placed digital cameras (REM method, Pettigrew et al. 2021) has also proven to be a successful, indirect, less costly and complementary solution for monitoring the moose population.

When a population is experiencing rapid changes, such as those observed between 1997 and 2023, it is desirable to increase the frequency of surveys to assess whether growth is being maintained, whether the population is following a predicted trajectory, or whether management actions are successful. With long-term time monitoring, moose abundance could also be related to vegetation data that are collected in parallel to assess the response time of the environment, and to document variations in moose densities in the park in relation to hunting patterns from outside the park. All this information is important to collect and, for this reason, it would be desirable to alternate in time the two survey methods available (for example: a survey every three years; by camera in years 3 and 6 and aerial in year 9), so as to obtain a reliable picture of the situation at reasonable cost, as long as the population density has not stabilized.

In addition, continuing harvest monitoring investigations on the park’s periphery allows us to better interpret the survey data and to better understand the cause of the imbalance in the sex ratio observed in moose in Forillon National Park. These are important elements, as they would help to better guide the removal to be carried out during the control.

Recommendation #10:

Continue and even intensify moose population surveys using the two methods available to them in an optimal time frame. The next aerial survey will take place in the winter of 2025, which implies that the following ones would ideally be held in 2028 and 2031 (by camera), then in 2034 (by air). At the same time, it is also important to continue monitoring the harvesting around the park in order to better interpret the data from these surveys.

Continue grazing surveys

The 2013-2017 Moose Management Plan (Sigouin et al. 2013) mentioned the need for vegetation monitoring to be able to detect the effects of moose overbrowsing on forest vegetation. Since 2009, browsing surveys in yarding sites have been conducted after each aerial survey and a network of exclosures was established during 2013 and 2014, and surveyed in 2014, 2018, and 2020. These surveys are highly relevant, contribute to the ecological integrity monitoring effort, and their results provide a direct measure of the impact of the moose population on forest vegetation. Continuing browse surveys over time will also be very important to obtain a picture of how the system is changing as moose abundance is controlled.

Recommendation #11:

Maintain browse surveys both in the yarding sites (following the aerial surveys : 2025 and 2034) and in the network of exclosures, so as to continue the effort to monitor ecological integrity in relation to the moose situation in Forillon National Park, and to obtain a picture of the evolution of the system throughout the implementation of the moose abundance control program.

New investigations in progress or in development

Since the implementation of the previous management plan (Sigouin et al. 2013), other scientific investigations have emerged, or are currently being developed. These investigations focus on the dynamics of the moose population in Forillon National Park as well as on the mechanisms that determine the dynamics of the transformations observed within the park’s plant communities. The areas they address are complementary to those of the previous investigations so that they allow the acquisition of new knowledge that will help to better understand the situation and its evolution over time. As a result of these new investigations, Forillon National Park is also in the process of acquiring new diagnostic and management tools that will facilitate its decision-making.

Moose population dynamics in Forillon National Park

If moose have been able to reach such levels of abundance in Forillon National Park, it is essentially because there is no mechanism to regulate their population (predation, hunting, lack of food, disease and parasites). Currently, there are many indications that the winter tick is expanding in Eastern Canada. This parasite has the potential to be a mortality factor to which moose are not yet adapted. Under these conditions, since we have little data on the survival rates and causes of mortality of individuals within Forillon National Park and since this information would be useful to calibrate the management measures to be applied, it is very important to investigate these aspects of moose biology in the park. In fact, a research project specifically on the links between moose and winter ticks was initiated in collaboration with Université Laval and is currently underway. Among other things, it is conducting telemetric monitoring of moose calves and adults in order to obtain data on the causes of mortality of the individuals, but also on their movements, which will make it possible to evaluate, among other things, the extent of the spillover effect of the Forillon National Park population to adjacent territories. In addition to this project, tagged moose that die during the study will be easily recovered, making it possible to perform necropsies and obtain other additional data, such as cause of death. It would also be a good idea to take advantage of the potential harvest from the conservation hunt to collect additional biological samples from the harvested individuals. In parallel, as different demographic parameters of moose populations can also be influenced by winter conditions (Bishop and Rausch 1974, Mech et al. 1987, Gasaway et al. 1983, Ballard et al. 1991, Peterson 1999, Tyers 2003, Ballenberghe and Ballard 2007), it is particularly important to explore this phenomenon in the context of Forillon National Park.

Since the implementation of the previous moose management plan (Sigouin et al. 2013), Forillon National Park authorities have a growing body of data on the demographic parameters of the park’s moose population. However, certain parameters raise questions and certain mechanisms remain to be clarified. For example, productivity is currently low (13 calves/100 F adults, see Addition of moose surveys in 2020 and 2023 and status of the measure), but the reason for this is unclear. In fact, in collaboration with Université Laval, we have been monitoring birth rates, calf survival and potential causes of mortality. The data generated by this initiative will help refine the population dynamics model being developed in collaboration with the Université du Québec à Rimouski in 2021. This project consists in designing a mathematical model representing the variations observed over the last decades in our moose population. Its main objectives are to improve the understanding of the mechanisms that led to the current situation of overabundance and to predict the evolution of this population for the coming years. Once operational, this model will be a valuable management tool that can greatly assist in analyzing the results of implementing the control program and in making future decisions. 

Recommendation #12:

Within its capacity, maintain and assist in developing any initiatives aimed at acquiring knowledge of moose population dynamics in the park, as these initiatives will allow for the improvement of the model, a tool that should prove particularly useful in achieving the objectives of the long-term monitoring program.

Habitat overuse and dynamics of forest opening in Forillon National Park

Boreal forest regeneration dynamics are characterized by fine-scale disturbances (senescence, disease, lightning affecting one or a few trees) or larger-scale disturbances (fires, insect epidemics) leading to the opening of the forest canopy. Depending on their magnitude, these disturbances can lead to a heterogeneous (de Römer et al. 2007, Muscolo et al. 2014) or homogeneous forest matrix (Bergeron et al. 1995, 1998). Forest regeneration mechanisms normally ensure ecosystem sustainability (Duchesne and Prévost 2013), however, under certain conditions, certain abiotic factors such as winter conditions or biotic factors such as herbivore browsing can alter this process. Although the effect of these phenomena separately is well documented in several regions, little is known about their combined effect on regeneration dynamics.

In fact, projects aiming to better diagnose the phenomena of opening up environments, to better identify the affected plots and to evaluate the relative contribution of selective browsing by moose and winter conditions on the succession regime of natural gaps were initiated in 2021, in collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke as well as with the Université Laval These projects will help improve the evaluation of the impact of moose on forest regeneration and therefore on the ecological integrity of Forillon National Park.

Recommendation #13:

Within its capacity, maintain and assist in the development of any initiative aimed at acquiring knowledge on the regeneration dynamics of the park’s forests, as these initiatives will allow for a better measurement of the current impact of moose on the ecosystem of Forillon National Park and their future impact following the application of the selected management measures.

Recommendation #14:

In keeping with the Directive for the Management of Hyperabundant Wildlife (Parks Canada Agency 2019), maintain or develop any initiative aimed at evaluating the effects of managing hyperabundant wildlife populations on current or proposed measures for managing species at risk in Forillon National Park. As such, specific monitoring of certain bird populations (Bicknell’s Thrush, Canada Warbler) or bats (little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus)) should be maintained or considered.

Adaptive management

To achieve its objectives within a reasonable time frame and to maintain them in the long term, the management of the moose population in Forillon National Park must be flexible and adaptable. It must be implemented through a systematic process of ongoing improvement of management practices and regular review of decisions made in light of knowledge gained from scientific investigations.

Recommendation #15:

Consider managing the hyperabundant moose population through an adaptive management process that is based primarily on lessons learned from scientific findings and applied actions.

Environmental impacts

The initiatives included in this management plan will make it possible to monitor the moose population and eventually begin to control its abundance to preserve the ecological integrity of Forillon National Park. As these initiatives are more or less invasive to the park’s ecosystems, they are likely to have potentially negative effects on some of their components. Therefore, it is desirable to conduct an analysis of the environmental impacts that would result from the implementation of the selected initiatives in order to provide mitigation measures, where appropriate.

In addition, because the initiatives involve different members from different local communities, they will have a regional impact on the community.

Recommendation #16:

In accordance with the Directive for Managing Hyperabundant Species (Parks Canada Agency 2019), conduct analyses of the natural and cultural resource impacts and local community impacts that would result from implementing the selected initiatives. The objectives of these analyses should be to:

  • identify the natural and cultural components that may be affected, plan mitigation measures and, where appropriate, assess the significance of residual adverse effects.
  • evaluate the importance of the impacts on the visitor experience as well as the local spinoffs for each of the communities involved, and to ensure, if necessary, that adjustments are made to optimize the situations.

These analyses must also be validated by experts and be subject to a follow-up and monitoring program to ensure that the objectives are met.

Public safety

Faced with the abundance of moose in the park, Forillon National Park wishes to implement the initiatives set out in this moose management plan, at least for the next five years. Because of their nature and their extent in space and time, these initiatives involve risks that the different groups of users of Forillon National Park will have to deal with. For example, implementing a conservation hunt will result in the use of weapons within the park boundaries and increased road traffic around the periphery. Scientific monitoring will require flying over the territory in aircraft or capturing moose using immobilizing drugs, etc.

Recommendation #17:

In fact, in accordance with the Hyperabundant Species Management Directive (Parks Canada Agency 2019) and to reduce the risks associated with these initiatives, develop and implement a safety plan that should have the following objectives:

  • identify the hazards and risks to different user groups,
  • take preventive measures to improve their safety.

This safety plan will showcase Parks Canada’s expertise by bringing together best practices in user safety management. It will establish service levels for incident prevention and emergency response, and procedures to be followed when necessary.

Communications

Parks Canada’s expertise and proactivity are paramount. Since 2009 in Forillon National Park, the Agency has conducted research and surveys in a sustained manner, which provides a more accurate picture of the situation today. Communications to date have included a public consultation component on moose population management measures, as well as specific consultations with the Micmac Nation of Gespeg and with public safety due to the risk of moose accidents. The Micmac Nation of Gespeg, the Regroupement de personnes expropriées de Forillon et leurs descendance, the tables or consultation groups of Cap-aux-Os and L’Anse-au-Griffon, the federations and associations of hunting and fishing of the Gaspé, the City of Gaspé nature protection and conservation organizations, regional tourism associations, the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec, employees of Forillon National Park and other local groups, constitute the target audience of our present and future communications. More broadly, the Canadian and Gaspesian population, the general public and all media and social networks are also taken into consideration.

Because this management plan calls for investigations and management actions that will be more far-reaching and on a broader scale of space and time than those in the previous plan, it is particularly critical to continue to communicate effectively with all members of the target audiences from both an informational and educational perspective. It is critical to proactively engage all stakeholders and visitors by providing them with the information they need to become aware of the impacts of overabundant wildlife on species at risk and ecological integrity. It is equally crucial to inform them of the management options being considered or implemented so that the whole process is well understood and accepted.

Recommendation #18:

In fact, in accordance with the Directive on the Management of Hyperabundant Species (Parks Canada Agency 2019), continue and strengthen communication initiatives by developing a new communication plan that should have the following objectives:

  • inform and consult with target audiences about the content of the new moose population management plan to encourage their support and willingness to participate,
  • demonstrate that Forillon National Park is acting proactively in this matter.
  • educate target audiences about moose (population, diet, habitat, etc.) and their relationship to the environment in order to raise awareness of the potential consequences of a hyperabundance of moose on the environment
  • highlight research partnerships and collaborations on conservation.

The control program operationalization plan (Recommendation #8), the environmental and socio-economic impact analyses (Recommendation #16), as well as the safety and communication plans (Recommendations #17 and #18) should be the subject of addendums to be added to the current management plan before the start of the moose population control program in Forillon National Park.


Conclusion

Following the implementation of the recommendations of the previous moose management plan (Sigouin et al. 2013) and the various population and plant inventories that followed until 2023, it is clear that the moose population in Forillon National Park is still at a very high density level and that, although we still have relatively few results (results that will be improved thanks to ongoing investigations), its impacts on the ecosystem are becoming increasingly marked. The moose population in Forillon National Park has therefore been officially declared hyperabundant. In light of this and Parks Canada’s ecological integrity obligations, the pros and cons of a dozen or so management measures available to us to deal with this situation were evaluated, followed by broad public consultation, and the choice was made to implement a moose population control program that is based almost exclusively on a conservation hunt.

To be properly implemented, this management measure must be accompanied by related initiatives and its terms must be clearly defined before it is deployed in the field. The details of these initiatives and terms and conditions were the subject of recommendations on the targets to be achieved in terms of ecological integrity, on the way to operationalize the management measures retained, on the scientific investigations to be pursued in order to implement an adaptive management, on the environmental and socio-economic impacts, on the public safety issues as well as on the communication issues related to the realization of such a control program.

In accordance with the current guideline for managing overabundant species (Parks Canada Agency 2019), prior to the start of the control program, it is very important that the results of recommendations on operationalizing the control program, environmental and socio-economic impact analyses, and public safety and communication issues be included as addenda to this management plan to ensure that implementation is accountable, effective and safe.

As has been the case for other national parks in Canada that have experienced similar situations, moose population management represents a major challenge for the managers of Forillon National Park. To successfully meet this challenge, it is very important to acquire the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions, to adopt adaptive management and especially to involve the Micmac Nation of Gespeg and partners from the local communities in the management and understanding of this issue whose repercussions could be unprecedented in the evolution of forest ecosystems for which Parks Canada is responsible. Given the initiatives that have already been carried out within the park and Parks Canada’s history in this area, the managers of Forillon National Park should be confident that they will succeed.


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