Local hunters are disappointed after the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry decided to decrease the number of moose tags it provides in the province for 2017.
The availability of moose tags has been reduced gradually over the past few years due to declining moose populations.
On its website, the MNRF lists many reasons for the decline, including parasites, changing climate, habitat, hunting, and predators.
Local moose hunter Hannah Mueller said the decrease in tags is going to discourage hunters from purchasing a licence and taking part in the hunt.
Limiting moose tags has forced hunters to apply in larger groups in hopes of receiving a tag, she noted.
Ontario is divided into sections so the province can regulate the number of moose in each one. They're called Wildlife Management Units (WMU) and each is allotted a certain number of tags per season based on population.
Mueller said most of the moose hunting in this area takes place east towards Atikokan in WMU 12B, and north towards Dryden in WMUs 9A and 9B.
The Fort Frances area, as well as west towards Rainy River, doesn't have a moose hunting season because it is mostly farm land.
Brad Allison, a senior biologist with the MNRF, outlined why the ministry is cutting back on tags.
Over the last three years, he said the number of bulls harvested in Fort Frances District WMUs has exceeded the planned harvest.
“When estimated harvest exceeds planned harvest levels, tag numbers are reduced to better align with the intended harvest levels for each WMU,” Allison explained.
“These adjustments help the MNRF to achieve the desired population objective set for each WMU.”
Allison added there still are hunting opportunities for resident hunters who are unsuccessful in obtaining an adult moose tag through the annual draw.
They can hunt for calf moose during the two-week calf season, and can party hunt for adult moose with other hunters who were successful in obtaining an adult tag through the draw.
But he does recognize it will be more difficult to get adult moose validation tags in several Fort Frances District WMUs, particularly those for bulls.
Tom Pearson of Camp Narrows Lodge on North West Bay said a good way to increase the number of moose in the area is to allow for a longer bear harvesting season.
He noted black bears prey on baby moose calves, which means less bears will result in more moose.
Pearson acknowledged the MNRF's decision to bring back the spring bear hunt was a good idea.
“If you want to keep moose, get rid of bears,” he reiterated.
“If the bears are eating my bait, then they aren't eating the moose.”
Because of the restrictions on tags, it has taken him 10 years to get one, Pearson said in frustration.
Like Mueller, he noted people are having to apply for tags in larger groups of up to 10 people.
The MNRF's 2017 hunting regulations issued 8,183 tags this year for bull and cow combined, 5,263 of which are allotted solely to Northwestern Ontario.
This is 291 less than the number issued in 2016.
Another problem that fuels the declining moose population is that the MNRF is cutting back on the number of aerial moose population surveys it runs.
Aerial surveys aim to get precise estimates of the moose population in Ontario's WMUs, which includes documenting moose age class, sex, estimating abundance of moose, and analyzing trends in their behaviour.
Pearson said this year, the MNRF flew the planes when it was very cold outside, therefore there weren't many moose out and about.
This resulted in an inaccurate report of the moose population, he noted.
Pearson said that in order for the moose population to increase, Fort Frances and surrounding areas need to realize the problem and work together to fix it.
“The communities need to get together and slow down the hunt,” he stressed.
“It will help to get the moose population back up if everyone is aware of the issue and works together.”