Thursday, 7 May 2009

Contrasting North America and European moose harvest

The radio is saying that the ice jam in Eagle is moving again, and the water level's going down. I'd provide a link, but it was on the radio, so I guess my link is "Http:// listen to your radio .radio," or some something.

Sweden, Norway and Finland (Fennoscandia) are at roughly the same latitude that Alaska, The Yukon, and the North-Worst Territories are - perhaps a trivial bit more southerly - but even a fleeting glance will reveal that the area is fairly different from North American areas of the same latitude. There's considerably more broad leaf plants, there are quite a few pines (I'm not sure, but I think there are no pine species in AK), and the average temperature is quite a bit warmer. I'm no climatologist, but I've been told it's because of a warm ocean current that pushes up into that area, moderating the effect of the arctic. I could be mistaken, though.

From the perspective of game, there is a huge difference. A good estimate is that in the whole state of AK, about 10,000 moose are harvested in a given year. I forget if this estimate considers unreported harvest... but yeah, it's pretty okay. Maybe high. (EDIT TO ADD: About 8,000, including unreported harvest). In just Sweden and Norway, they harvested 116,000 in 2007. There are a number of user groups in the state (and out of state) that'd like to see our harvest numbers approach theirs.

Scott Brainerd, now at ADF&G, but a guy we stole from Norway (sorry Norway!), had been talking to us about how this just doesn't seem likely. First, you have the productivity issue (the milder seasons, more plant growth, and favourable soil) which leads to a big difference in biomass between similar North American regions and Fennoscandian regions. Biomass is literally just that - the mass (weight) of biological stuff.

Second, Scandinavia has some very intensive forestry practices, which involve quite a bit of timber harvest. While timberharvest isn't great for many species, it tends to be very good for moose in a short period, as it creates a bloom of new second growth. This might not be sustainable in Scandinavia, and I've heard a few people mention that the good times won't always roll - that they're headed for a crash. Alaska doesn't have that sort of timber available to harvest in moose-relevent areas.

Third, access in that whole region is phenomenal. There is few areas in Norway or Sweden that you can't reach quickly through road and off-road vehicle access. They have about a 700 year head start on building roads. You can see a clip of the end effect in that picture to the right. I don't think there's any place where you can go 30km straight line and not intersect a road of some sort.

Predators are all but expatriated. Wolves were quite actively hunted (over-exploited in most areas) until 1976, when hunting and trapping was restricted. Wolf numbers remain very low, as do brown bears. As I mentioned before, Arctic Fox are also in a bad situation.

Finally, hunting itself is very different in Fennoscandian, compared to Alaska. This is far too big of a topic to go into with any coverage here, but in a nutshell, animals are owned by landowners, not the state, hunting is typically done in territories and by teams, as opposed to family units in an ad-hoc manner, and moose meat is commercially viable, whereas sale is restricted in Alaska, Yukon, etc.

Scott said the question shouldn't be `can we do it?`, but instead `would we even want to?` The factors that make the difference in moose numbers are fairly serious, and while we could make a best effort at copying the Fennoscandian model, the end effect looks mildly unpleasant for the United States and Canada.


Finnskimo, its more than just a name... said...

holy cow...(moose cow of course), 116,000 a YEAR! I want to just get ONE.

Good news though, I just submitted my request for a Tier II Musk Ox on my own land up in Sisualik! yay...hope I get it, so I can go in my backyard and shoot me a fatty.

KC said...

Luck on the Tier II! I'm embarassed to say I'm not sure where Sisualik is. Is Sheshalik the engish-ized version of its name? ('cause I know where /that/ is).

Yeah, 116,000 is a very large number! That's why some groups are accusing managers in ADF&G of either hoarding moose or mismanaging what they got. But Fennoscandia is like a moose factory!

Windy said...

Good summary. Yep, productivity and forestry are the main differences. But a couple of quibbles about the list of differences in hunting practices (at least how it works in Finland and Sweden). "animals are owned by landowners, not the state" - landowners don't own the animals, but they have hunting rights. The teams rent these rights, but they still have to get a permit for each moose. Only a certain number of permits are given out each year and the permit specifies the sex and age of the moose that you're allowed to shoot, which allows for stock management.

And although you can sell moose meat, only a small proportion actually gets sold.

Ann said...

So just a small addition, on how the hunting in Sweden is conducted:
-The Landowners does not OWN the animals, the landowner owns the hunting right on his land
-Hunting is not allowed all over Sweden
-Since 1985 all hunters has to take the "jägar examen" (hunting degree)to be able to hunt
-In order to have legally right to own a hunting weapon you have to have a "jägar examen"
-Hunting season in Sweden is mainly between August-February
-Each "hunting area" has a quote of number of animals that are allowed to be taken down during the hunting season, the that quota is reached the hunting is called off
-There are roughly 250 000-270 000 moose hunters in Sweden each year
-There are roughly 300 000-400 000 belonging to the summer population and about 200 000-300 000 belonging to the winter population (compared to the estimate of Alaskan Moose of: 150 000 ( don't know how up to date that is..)
-The hunting is a part of the Swedish Nature Conservation and is strictly set up in order to hunt in a sustainable manner

So with the above facts, I personally don't think the 116 000 is that big amount of moose regarding the actual Size of Sweden (450,295 square kilometres)(compared to Alaska which is 1 700 000 square kilometres). The effect in having a too big population in Sweden is more traffic accidents and of course damage to the trees.

KC said...

Wow! Thank you, both Windy and Ann, for either of your very good comments. I'll bow to your experiences on Hunting Practices etc., as it sounds like either of you two are much more experienced in those matters than I am! What I've learned came from taking notes from conversations (and one seminar) with Scott ADF&G.

I would take issue with Ann's idea that 116,000 harvestable moose isn't that terribly many, though! If we match for latitude for North America, actual moose densities are dramatically higher than across North America. And while I hadn't repeated the exercise for the remainder of Eurasia, I strongly suspect we'd find the same for the bulk of the remainder, given what I know about Russian moose. Fennoscandian moose densities are an outlier.

Windy said...

"Fennoscandian moose densities are an outlier."

In time as well as space - it sounds amazing, but they were almost extinct there in the 1800s. In 1933 there were an estimated 3500 moose in Finland, at the maximum in the '80s there were 140,000 (before calving.) Now it's somewhat less.