• Photo: Gérald Tapp

Moose can be voracious, and they can damage large areas of forest when their populations are inflated. That’s why, for the third year running, the public can hunt them in Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park. Parks Canada, in fact, has opened a full 90 per cent of the park to hunters.

“We’re not the first park to have a population reduction,” says Tom Knight, an Ecosystem Scientist with Parks Canada. “What’s different in the case of Gros Morne is the scale: because of the number of animals, we have solicited volunteer hunters from the public.” Parks Canada made 1,000 hunting licences available. Of those, 942 were subscribed.

Introduced to the Rock more than 100 years ago, moose have no natural predators there besides the odd black bear. And the antlered animals are especially abundant in the island’s two national parks. When Gros Morne opened in 1973 there were a couple hundred moose living in the area. But with the prohibition on hunting that comes with national park status, the numbers skyrocketed. Knight estimates 5,000 of them now live in and feed off of the 1,805-square-kilometre park.

All their browsing is the main problem. Moose’s appetite for seedling trees is changing the nearly 800 square kilometres of boreal forest in Gros Morne to grassland – or what Knight calls “moose-spruce Savannah.” Forty-five square kilometres have already converted to the grass-land state, and that means moose are literally eating some forest-dependent songbirds out of house and home.

“Some people see this as just a tree issue, but we’re starting to see ramifications through the ecosystem,” Knight says. “We’re trying to get the moose population down to the point that we can see those trees regenerating and normal forest processes happening.”

Parks Canada has scheduled a park-wide survey for next year to find out if its management plan is working.