Biologist hopes 'harvest pressure map' helps Yukon moose populations

With the ever-increasing development of roadways and new technology available to hunters, Yukon moose biologist Sophie Czetwertynski says there's a risk of over-harvesting the animal in some areas of the territory.

That's why she's developing what she is calling a "harvest pressure map".

"What the map is going to identify is basically moose populations where harvest is above sustainable levels," she said.

Czetwertynski hopes the map will help to educate both resident and non-resident hunters in Yukon, by indicating which areas of territory are at risk.

"Moose populations in the Yukon are pretty fragile," she said.

'Access, access, access'

When asked what the biggest threat to the species is in Yukon, Czetwertynski has a ready response — "access, access, access".

She says a lot has changed in the territory the last 20 years when it comes to hunting in remote areas.

"So much more of the landscape is accessible ... It's easier for a higher number of moose to be hunted."

While harvest numbers only account for a small proportion of overall mortality rates in the Yukon population, Czetwertynski says hunting can have a big impact in some areas.

Predation from wolves and bears means the density of moose in Yukon is considerably lower than other parts of the country, she says. In fact, some areas may see densities as low as "100 animals per 1,000 square kilometres," she said.

"That's why we have to be careful of how many moose we harvest, because the available surplus is very small."

Decades to recover

Environment Yukon's website says that the territory is home to more than 70,000 moose. Last year, more than 720 moose were harvested. That's the largest number since 2008.

"Generally, areas around communities, around major road works, and easily accessible areas is where we see the highest pressure," Czetwertynski said.

She says when a population suffers from over-harvesting, it can take decades to recover. Some may never recover at all.

That's why Czetwertynski hopes to have her map available to hunters this fall.

"I think the map would allow people to make choices about where they go to hunt their next moose," she said.

Gord Zealand, the executive director of the Yukon Fish and Game Association agrees that hunters need more information about sustainable moose hunting in Yukon.

"The pressure map is a way of doing that," he said. "But at the end of the day, it comes down to people understanding and respecting what they're dealing with out there."