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Nova Scotia has released a long-awaited recovery plan for the province’s mainland moose, but conservationists worry the document lacks the teeth needed to restore the vulnerable species.

Although mainland moose were once plentiful in Nova Scotia, the species’ numbers have dwindled due to forestry, poaching and disease. Its current population count is 700, according to the province, but other sources say there could be fewer than 100. There have long been calls for a sound plan to build population numbers and restore and preserve habitat.

Now, there’s the 2021 Recovery Plan. Prepared for the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, it includes a 20-year population target for the first time, which aims to increase the species’ population to 5,000 moose, including 500 breeding animals. The plan also maps out core habitat, which is land needed to support the moose recovery, and makes recommendations for research around population counts to get a better understanding of the state of the species.

Mainland moose concentrated areas as mapped out by the 2021 Recovery Plan. Image from the report prepared for the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Renewables

Although the animal thrived at one time throughout the province, it’s now mostly found in pockets of Nova Scotia. Increased logging roads and other human obstructions have made it difficult for moose to move freely around the province, and the report says providing corridors for movement between core habitats is a must.

Retired provincial biologist Bob Bancroft said although the plan is “good,” sub-par forestry practices across Nova Scotia stand firmly in the way of the goals in the recovery plan. Implementing ecological forestry is essential in increasing mainland moose numbers, said Bancroft.

“This is no bad reflection on the group of people who came up with a plan, but what's happening now is it hasn’t been enacted. It’s sitting on a shelf,” he said.

Bancroft, who is also president of Nature Nova Scotia, has been observing and advocating for moose for decades. He surveyed moose habitat as a provincial biologist and helped come up with the first plan to restore the population as part of the mainland moose recovery team in 2007. However, he said a lack of government resources made it difficult to get necessary work done — such as more in-depth population surveying — and that the same is happening today.

The new recovery plan comes about a month after William Lahey evaluated the province’s progress on the 2018 Lahey report, which was supposed to serve as a sustainability roadmap for Nova Scotia’s forestry industry. Lahey found there had been no real change on the ground, that clear-cutting is happening at an alarming rate in the province and that suggestions from the original report on how to protect wildlife have remained untouched.

Nova Scotia has released a long-awaited recovery plan for the province’s mainland moose, but conservationists worry the document lacks the teeth needed to restore the vulnerable species. #Conservation #Wildlife #Endangered

In Lahey’s initial report, he calls for existing Crown land to be divided into a triad forestry model, which puts forests into three sections: production forest, protection forest and “the ecological matrix.” This approach would see some forests completely protected from logging and others logged at different rates depending on age and other factors. The “matrix” category would have forests with mixed protection and logging.

After the update, eight environmental and community organizations in the province, including Nature Nova Scotia, called for a halt on logging on Crown land until the Lahey recommendations are implemented. Bancroft said the ecological forestry model the Lahey report outlines is essential in helping the mainland moose recover.

“Most need a mature forest, which is very rare now. And they need patches of younger forest. And what they're creating is the exact opposite. It's a sea of clear-cuts,” said Bancroft.

The Department of Natural Resources and Renewables said a survey will be done this winter to start counting the moose population, and that the new recovery plan will help the restoration of the mainland moose.

“Moose are an important part of our province’s natural and cultural identity. We now have an evidence-based recovery plan, which sets priorities and timelines for further action to help save this important species,” said Natural Resources and Renewables Minister Tory Rushton.

“I thank the recovery planning team for its work and commit to working with our partners to implement the plan, with some actions already started.”

Nature Nova Scotia is glad the province has the plan on the table, and Bancroft said the next step is holding the government accountable for implementing it. They’re working on signs for lawns and a campaign — he points to recent success around the cancellation of a proposal that would have seen Owl’s Head Provincial Park sold off to developers and turned into golf courses and luxury homes. Huge public opposition prompted the developers to withdraw their application, but groups are still waiting on the province to officially protect the land.

Inaction after the Lahey report serves as a cautionary tale for Bancroft and others.

“You know, you try to use the system and work within a system, but it's not working,” he said.

“... I'm just as stubborn as they are powerful, I guess.”

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