The province is aiming to have a five-year moose management plan in place for the 2013 hunting season.
Meanwhile, Environment minister Terry French hasn't made any decisions on the number of moose hunting licences that will be issued for this Fall's hunt, in light of recent statistics that show the moose population in decline.
Since the population tipped the scale at 150,000 in the mid 90s the species has been in a steady decline.
While the population was estimated to be 117,000 last year, French said this year’s prediction is 115,400.
Roughly 110,000 of those animals are outside of national parks.
“There is hunting within the parks now, so it’s added strain on the population,” he told The Packet.
However, French said, “It’s not something to press the panic button about."
French said while some moose management areas are in better shape than others; there is concern about the overall population numbers.
Keith Payne, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Outfitters Association, said the declining numbers are of worry to outfitters.
Payne said the multi-million dollar industry is anchored to the annual hunt, and Newfoundland’s reputation as a great place to hunt moose.
He told The Packet he sees two factors contributing to the overall drop in moose numbers – one being the increase to licenses.
During the 2011 hunt, nearly 30 per cent of the population was offered to hunters. Approximately 7,000 additional licenses were issued over the last two hunting seasons. A total of 33,440 licenses were issued for the 2011 hunt.
“No other jurisdiction in Canada gives that kind of percentage to an annual kill rate,” he said.
“It’s not sustainable and that’s the bottom line.”
The other factor is the male-to-female license ratio.
Out of the licenses issued for 2011, Payne said 20,000 licenses were issued either sex – meaning female moose could be taken.
“When you kill a cow (female moose) you’re really killing two animals,” he said. “That’s why you are going to see the numbers drop so much, because it’s killing the breeders.”
Payne said outfitters didn’t see much of a decline in hunting this year, because experienced guides can find moose in their areas.
However, Payne said if the licenses remain the same he expects different results for the 2012 hunt.
“That would be 66,000 licenses issued in two years,” he said, and the population can’t maintain that pressure.
At the current rate, Payne said, the prediction is that in less than four years the population will have diminished to 67,000 animals.
“So I can see why the minister (French) says it’s frightening,” Payne said about French’s concerns expressed in a recent address to the Rotary Club of St. John's.
Low numbers could create low success rates, creating an uncertain future for outfitters.
Payne said the high success rates of the past are what built a strong reputation for the outfitters of this province.
“It’s expensive just to travel here, so we need that selling point,” he said.
“If we get cut down to a 50 per cent of the population it will be the end of a lot of operations.”
While the association sympathizes with those who say moose are a danger on the highway, Payne said the increased moose killings don’t resolve the issue.
He said the moose that need to be targeted are along the busiest sections of highway, not in the backcountry, or highways with low vehicle traffic.
“By far the biggest factor in the increase of moose accidents is the increase in traffic,” he said. “Our moose population is going down yet moose accidents are going up.”
To get a sense of the population, minister French said there is an annual count, which covers four or five moose management areas per year.
With 50 moose management areas in the province, it would take roughly 10 years to complete a census.
French said there are other variables that come into play, such as hunter and outfitter feedback, migration patterns, poaching activity, previous counts and so forth.
He claims it’s an accurate approach to establishing the population numbers.
“It’s the way they’ve been doing it for years,” he said.
There could be a large plus or minus percentage involved with the count, but he pointed out it’s impossible to count each individual moose
“We’ve got scientists within the department (to do this census) and it’s proven science, used internationally…so we are fairly confident in the number.”
With the latest calculations suggesting the population is declining, French isn’t sure how this year’s hunt will unfold.
“I haven’t made a decision on the number of animals we are going take,” he told The Packet.
French said there are a number of issues to weigh when making that determination, including the social caring capacity on one side, with the outfitters industry on the other.
“It’s a real balancing act and governments never have it easy when it comes to these types of decisions,” he said.
French couldn’t provide any details on the plan, saying it’s still in its early stages.
“We’ve had some internal conversations,” he said, adding public input will be sought. he added previous trending data and other considerations will be factored in.
“We aren’t going to do it flippantly,” he said.