THE PROTECTION OF COWS: ITS IMPACT ON MOOSE HUNTING AND MOOSE POPULATIONS
Selective harvest of moose (Alces alces) was re-introduced in Québec in 1994 following 30 years of liberal hunting regulations in which all segments of the population were harvested. The aim of this regulatory change was to increase the population by 31 - 15% over a 5-year period while maintaining hunting activity and improving its quality. New hunting regulations were established in cooperation with users following public hearings and meetings with hunter representatives. It was agreed that all hunters would be allowed to harvest bulls and calves but that harvest of cows would be managed through the issuance of special cow permits. Five harvest scenarios were adopted according to population status in each hunting zone and management objectives agreed upon with hunters: (1) cow harvest <10%; (2) no harvest of cows for 5 years; (3) no harvest of cows for 2 years and a 10% harvest rate thereafter; (4) no cow harvest in alternate years; and (5) non-selective harvest. One or two hunting zones that were representative of each scenario were chosen for comparison among scenarios. Regulation changes resulting in increased moose populations were favored by 78% of hunters consulted in a mail survey, and 54% of people in public hearings. Implementations of selective harvest, in 1994, was accompanied by a 9% reduction in hunter numbers, 7% of which was attributed to this regulatory change. However, the number of hunters stabilized starting in the second year. The initial decline in hunter numbers was greatest in the zones where the harvest of cows was subjected to the strict quotas. Correspondingly the sport harvest fell 16% in 1994. The decline was greatest (30-40%) in those zones where hunters were prohibited from harvesting cows and least (7%) in the zone where special cow permits were issued. During the plan it was difficult to sufficiently limit the number of cow permits so as not to exceed harvest quotas due to the very high success rate of hunters with special permits. This suggests that they had access to females spared by hunters without a special permit and that some of then possibly registered cows killed by other hunters. The harvest of bulls increased beginning in 1994, remained high for 1 or 2 years, then tended to decline. Overall, the harvest of calves rose by about 6%. Hunting success stayed stable or slightly increased during the plan despite selective harvest. The population sizes did not increase significantly (1.6%) per year where special permits were issued but increased rapidly and significantly (16.6%) per year in zones where all cows were protected. The proportion of bulls in the population has declined in all but 1 zone and the number of calves per 100 cows has increased in most zones. However, population structure changes were generally not significant. After 4 years of selective harvest the overall results appear positive. The number of hunters has stabilized, and harvest, hunting success, and moose populations have returned to prior levels or have increased. Aerial surveys suggest that the imbalance in the sex ratio resulting from the protection of cows does not appear to have impacted productivity.
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