The B.C. government has begun its fourth year of a moose winter tick survey, part of its effort to turn around a decline in moose and caribou populations in the province’s Interior.
The program is a key indicator of health for the province’s estimated population of 120,000 to 200,000 moose, measuring spread and impact of large blood-consuming ticks that infest large wild animals in early spring. The survey has had sparse public response since it began in 2015, except for the northern regions of Skeena, Omineca and Peace where most public responses have come from so far.
Moose and caribou population declines have been a significant issue in the B.C. Interior in recent years. Several B.C. Interior Indigenous communities joined together last year to ban non-native moose hunting, rejecting limited-entry hunting rules imposed by the province for what has previously been an open season. The Tsilhqot’in National Government in the Williams Lake area began blocking forest roads last fall to enforce their own wildlife regulations, citing widespread forest fire damage as well as a decline attributed to habitat fragmentation from resource roads and snowmobile trails as well as hunting.
Government efforts to stop the decline of caribou herds have also sparked controversy, with local conservation groups arguing they are being shut out of plans to expand protected areas. Environment Canada released a report in December concluding that despite draft plans and provincial promises of caribou protection areas, few steps have been taken to expand habitat protection.
That doesn’t sit well with local conservation groups, who worry that Ottawa will impose its own solutions.
“In our area, it’s not just snowmobiling, it’s the logging industry, it’s the mining industry,” conservation volunteer Pierre Dion of 100 Mile House told a meeting organized by Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett last week.
B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson has promised that communities will be involved in the decision-making, after concerns were raised at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention last September.
Winter ticks tend to be worse in warmer winters, and researchers are tracking climate shifts that also affect forest fire conditions in the summer. But the vast areas create problems for the survey, as well as enforcement of caribou protection areas and hunting laws.
The 2018 survey, released this week, predicts lower than average tick infestations for the coming season, based on snowpack projections for this coming winter and spring.
Responses to the moose survey increased after the pilot year, but have remained low in the Cariboo, Kootenay, Lower Mainland and Okanagan regions. Participants are asked to fill out an online survey at www.gov.bc.ca/wildlifehealth/mooseticksurvey to indicate the loss of winter hair, an indicator of the extent of tick infestation that can weaken and even kill moose between January and April.
Survey forms can also be saved and completed on a computer, tablet or mobile phone and returned via email to FLNRMooseTickSurvey@gov.bc.ca to add to the province-wide database.
Nearly 500 usable survey results were received last year, with 71 per cent of observations classified as adult moose and the remainder calves. Province-wide, a third of the citizen reports indicated signs of winter hair loss in moose.
The tick monitoring program is publicized through local newspapers and radio, outdoor magazines and distribution to conservation officers, wildlife biologists, hunters, trappers and the general public.
Winter ticks also affect whitetail and mule deer, elk and bison, but mainly moose. They are not a hazard for humans.
There are three subspecies in B.C., the large Alaskan Moose in the northwest, the Northwestern Moose across most of the province and the smaller Shiras Moose in the East Kootenay and extending into the U.S.