Moose (Alces alces) are found in a variety of habitats throughout the boreal forest and agricultural landscapes of Saskatchewan. In the boreal forest, moose select different habitats at different times of the year and require a mixed forest landscape year-round to meet their various needs.
What we are doing
Moose use landscapes that are a mixture of closed, mature coniferous stands for cover, young regenerating deciduous areas for browsing, and aquatic foraging areas in the summer. The need for cover and availability of forage are primary considerations in moose habitat selection, making landscapes with a mixture of these habitat types most suitable.
Moose benefit from disturbances in the forest, such as fire and logging activities, due to the abundance of young forage associated with forest regeneration. They may also be negatively impacted by forestry activities through the opening of roads in areas previously free from vehicle access and linear disturbance. There is a higher risk of predation associated with larger clearcuts where the distance to cover is increased. The impacts of linear disturbances and logging activity result in fragmentation of habitat, increased and improved access for humans and predators, and disruption of travel corridors. Also, moose may have higher food requirements due to increased searching for browse and thermal regulation needs due to reduced cover.
Hunter harvest success is calculated from the number of animals harvested per hunter who submitted a hunter harvest survey. Response rates vary from year to year, but are generally around 25 per cent. Hunter harvest success can be a useful population measure when used with other information sources, including aerial surveys and anecdotal information gathered from hunters and conservation officers who spend significant periods on the land observing wildlife and hunter dynamics.
In the boreal forest, hunter success can be influenced not only by the availability of moose (population), but also by increased access from new roads and changes in animal behaviour in response to areas with high hunting pressure (avoidance behaviour). Also, advances in hunting equipment allow greater access and precision and therefore greater success. As access increases, hunter success may stay the same or increase, despite a drop in population.
Six of 15 wildlife management zones were assessed between 2011 and 2017. Zones not shown do not have complete data for the years evaluated. Based on survey responses, moose in WMZ 56, 57 and 67 in the southern commercial forest wildlife management zones are declining. Anecdotal information and reports from field staff have confirmed similar trends across all the southern boreal forest wildlife management zones.
Moose populations have been declining across North America, including the southern portions of Saskatchewan’s commercial forest. For example, a 2018 survey in WMZ 67 showed a 30 per cent decline from a survey 10 years earlier. A 2004 aerial survey of WMZ 67 showed an estimated population of 2,021 individuals (+/- 25.1 per cent) and the 2018 survey showed a population estimate of 1,340 individuals (+/-19.4 per cent). This means that there are less than half as many moose per square kilometre now, compared to 2004.
Information received from the public, hunters and conservation officers over the past five years all verify that people see less moose on the landscape in the southern portions of the commercial forest.
A variety of factors may contribute to the current population declines in the southern portions of the commercial forest. Habitat change and loss, disease and parasites, predation, increased linear disturbances and associated increased predation and increased hunting pressure due to greater hunter access can all contribute to moose population decline. Further study is required to evaluate the current moose population and understand this regional decline.
Why it matters
Moose are a high-value species to both subsistence and sport hunters in Saskatchewan. They are an important component of the diet and culture of Indigenous people along the forest fringe and southern boreal plain. Resident and non-resident moose hunting contributes significantly to local economies throughout the province. In 2017, there were 6,610 regular licences and 5,330 draw licences sold for moose. Outfitting for non-Saskatchewan residents is authorized in the province, with approximately 300 guided moose licenses available annually.
Moose populations have been declining in a number of jurisdictions in the last decade. Manitoba saw severe moose declines that led to a total closure of hunting in multiple regions of the province in 2011 and again in 2015. Closures were still in place for Manitoba's 2018 hunting season, and populations are still below desired levels, though a halt in decline and a slight increase has been observed since closing hunting seasons. British Columbia experienced severe moose declines in 2013-14 that were observed through aerial surveys. Minnesota moose populations were also declining steeply from 2006 through 2017 (approximately 60 per cent), but declines have levelled out as of 2018. A four-year study in Minnesota showed that major sources of mortality included parasitic infections, wolf kills and compounding factors such as underlying health problems that may have contributed to higher wolf kills.