By Steve Galea
Ontario’s new moose hunting regulations will take effect this year – and, as you would expect when the changes are so comprehensive, not everyone is happy.
The new regulations were developed, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, after a public consultation period in 2019. The Moose Management Review, conducted by Ontario’s Big Game Management Advisory Committee, set out to hear from moose hunters across Ontario in order to make recommendations to the MNRF.
Upon receiving those recommendations, the MNRF went to work doing an overhaul of moose regulations. The hope was to improve moose management in order to bolster waning moose populations in some areas, and to provide a fairer system of moose tag allocations for resident hunters.
Ontario is a huge province with diverse moose habitats, hunting opportunities and traditions. What is welcome in one area might not be in another.
Here in Haliburton County, Keith Hodgson and Kim Roberts, who have both been moose hunters in excess of 40 years each, have major concerns with the new regulations. And, an informal survey of local moose hunters, indicates they are not alone.
Their first concern is that the system is too complex.
“It’s going to take a few years before most moose hunting group captains understand the system,” said Hodgson.
Roberts added, “The process they implemented is very technical, because it has so many steps.” (In fact, there are 18 pages “summarizing” moose hunting regulations in the 2021 Hunting Regulations
Summary. Much of that explains new regulations. Other pages direct moose hunters to two webs pages that help explain the process further.)
Roberts explained that, in order for groups to have tags each year, and in order for a group not to overharvest moose on the properties they hunt, a group will need to think and plan more strategically, and for the long term.
“Each group is going to need to have someone who coordinates the effort and makes sure members of their hunting party apply for the right tags and apply with the right points for the proper tag selection for the hunting party to remain sustainable,” she said.
The point system is at the heart of the new regulations. Tags are allocated on a point-based system, starting this year. The system awards a hunter one point for each year they applied for an adult tag unsuccessfully since last receiving one or since they began applying if they have never received one.
In this inaugural season, points are calculated based on the hunter’s draw history from 1993 to 2020. Starting this year, bull, cow/calf or calf tags in each Wildlife Management Unit are awarded to the hunters with the highest points applying for them. Once the hunter applying is successful in getting the tag they want, their points revert to zero and they must build them up again. Likewise, a hunter who applies for a tag and is not awarded one, accumulates one additional point making the odds of success greater next year. This is meant to ensure, that in the long term, everyone eventually will find themselves with enough points to successfully draw a tag. That part appeals to hunters who have applied for many years for an adult tag without getting one.
But, as Roberts says, just because your group has five hunters with enough points for tags, doesn’t mean you should use them all in one season. Otherwise, next season your group might find itself with many hunters with inadequate point scores and without any tags. The idea is to always try to keep at least one high point hunter in reserve for next season, so you the group always has a least one tag a season.
Hodgson also worries that the complexity of the new regulations might cause some people to quit moose hunting, and says he already knows someone who has.
“It [the new system] is put forth poorly,” he said.
Roberts also says, in her experience, initially the phone-in system to determine draw success was unnecessarily complex and difficult to follow.
Aside from what they believe to be a confusing implementation, both feel the new system might actually hurt moose hunting revenues in Ontario.
“One reason the point system was brought in was because there were too many individual hunters complaining they didn’t get tags,” Roberts said. “But at least, in the old system, they always had a calf tag. Now, once they successfully apply for a tag, they are back down to zero points and it might take a lot of years before they get another adult or calf tag. So they either have to join a group and pay money to support the camp, and hunt in a way that they are not used to, or they might choose to hunt in a province where moose and tags are more plentiful. Or not hunt at all.”
Also, people who are unsuccessful in their tag application will not buy licences that year, if they cannot find a party willing to accept them. Also new moose hunters will have to join an established party or apply for many years before they are eligible for tags – again, making the out of province option more appealing.
Likewise, she says, others who are intimidated by the new system, might quit altogether or visit places where moose are plentiful, and hunting is less complicated. In both case, she notes, moose hunting revenues will suffer.
Both also worry about how the system will affect hunt camps. “If a hunt camp goes a year or two without any tags (since calf tags now also need to be applied for) people in that camp might abandon it. Why pay for all the upkeep, leases and dogs, if there is no chance of hunting?”
Hodgson says, “The old system in which, if you bought a licence, you had a calf tag, was better for private landowners, because you could always be certain of a hunt.”
Roberts also has concerns that the Big Game Management Advisory Committee, which provided recommendations to the MNRF, was not representative of moose hunters province wide.
“When they implemented the roundtable, there was no real southern input, other than one Ontario Federation of Angler and Hunters biologist. There were no women. There was no broad spectrum of input,” she said.
“This system,” Hodgson maintains, “favours northern lodge owners.” (Obtaining a moose tag from a tourist outfitter does not affect a hunter’s points.)
Both feel that, though the old system wasn’t perfect, it could have been improved with less disruption.
On the other hand, both also concede that there are good aspects of the new regulations.
They like, for instance, that it got rid of “ghost hunters.” The term refers to non-participating hunters who would apply for tags with no intention of joining a group. Rather, they simply applied for the tag in order t to improve a group’s odds of getting a tag. And, if the ghost hunter was successful, they would transfer the tag to someone in the group.
The new system has also banned tag transfers, unless for exceptional circumstances, which Hodgson and Roberts also approve of.
In the end, however, they believe the problem is not with the old system but rather with a lack of field staff and surveys by MNRF staff.
“I don’t think they (the MNRF) have a good knowledge of the resource anymore,” Hodgson said.
They point to what they characterize as poorly done aerial surveys, lack of field staff, and lack of field work because of Covid.
“The biggest thing is that if they don’t do the proper inventories no system will work,” Hodgson said.
Asked if they felt the new system might eventually level the playing field in terms of tag allocations and possibly help moose numbers, both are unconvinced.
“We will have to wait until next year to see how this season went. It will be two or three years before we can determine if the new system is doing what it is supposed to do,” Hodgson said.