Canada mounting aggressive ‘moose sex’ project

First, I apologize for using the words “mounting” and “moose sex” in the headline. It was a juvenile thing to do. I accept full responsibility. (And I still think it was funny).

Now that the first mea culpa of the day is out of the way, in the immortal words of Salt-N-Pepa, “Let’s talk about sex.”

Not for you and me.

For the moose.

Earlier this week I learned that up north of the border — along the boundary  that separates the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia — those wily Canadians are preparing for an influx of randy moose.

At least that’s the goal of the “Moose Sex Project,” an effort of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Here’s the deal, according to a report from the Canadian Press and the NCC’s website: New Brunswick has plenty of moose — an estimated 29,000 of the burly critters. Nova Scotia? Not so much. In fact, the mainland moose population of Nova Scotia (all 1,000 of ‘em) is considered endangered.

That just won’t do. I’ve been to Nova Scotia. I love it there. In fact, if I were a moose, I’d surely amble in that direction, given the choice.

The “Moose Sex Project” aims to give those (hopefully amorous New Brunswick) moose just that choice.

Reports (which I may have made up) that Nova Scotians are blasting Barry White music through speakers aimed at New Brunswick have proven false. So, too, the reports (also imaginary) that if you stand in Sackville, New Brunswick and look to the east, you’re sure to see thousands of mood-enhancing candles flickering in the direction of Amherst, Nova Scotia.

Again, I apologize for not taking the “Moose Sex Project” seriously. Mea culpa … again. It’s just that … well … if you name something the “Moose Sex Project,” well, you’re likely aware that it might make certain (permanently adolescent) people chuckle.

Seriously, the idea that the NCC has come up with has some merit. The NCC has secured conservation lands in what’s called the Chignecto Isthmus Natural Area — that’s the piece of land that connects the two provinces — in order to protect moose habitat for generations to come.

That makes perfect sense; moose aren’t known to migrate long distances over concrete or through shopping malls, and if Nova Scotia has any hopes of luring the lovesick New Brunswick herd to Canada’s Ocean Playground, there’s got to be a nice, wooded route available.

Armed with the basics of the Canadian “Moose Sex Project,” I ambled over to the office of my favorite moose expert, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist Lee Kantar, to ask his opinion.

Kantar hadn’t heard of the initiative, and while he’s a serious biologist, after I told him I wanted to have some fun writing about the topic, he almost, nearly, kind of laughed. Once. Of course, I may have imagined that, too.

Kantar informed me that Nova Scotia actually has two separate sub-species of moose. One — the same kind that exists in New Brunswick — is indeed quite rare. The other is not.

That second subspecies, which lives on Cape Breton, is causing a bit of a ruckus.

“They have a hyper-abundance of moose there in the highlands,” Kantar said. “They have plenty of moose there and, in fact, they’re having some damage done to the forest up in the park there.”

Not the kind of moose you’d want to invite to the mainland for a party, I guess. Proven rabble-rousers, they’d probably show up in Halifax, steal the mates of the few remaining Nova Scotian moose, and trash the forests.

Kantar explained that moose — especially male moose — are rambling animals. Come adulthood, male moose pack their figurative bags and move out, searching for their own patch of habitat.

A key to that migration is “connectivity,” or being able to move to a new area by tromping through natural areas that provide the essentials a moose needs.

“So you would think, when there’s a land connection between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, just through happenstance and habitat and seeking out [new territory], over time [the moose would move into Nova Scotia],” Kantar said.

The problem with that theory, Kantar admits, is that the moose won’t move if they don’t have to. And when there aren’t many other moose trying to munch on your own personal browse patch, the incentive to hoof it across the isthmus is probably pretty slim.

And what will make those moose move?

If you guessed “sex,” get your mind out of the gutter. OK. I’ll admit that you might be right, but only if you’re referring to the relatively short mating season, which takes place in the fall.

If you guessed “grub!” you’re right for the other 11 months of the year.

A 1,000-pound moose is a voracious eater, Kantar explained. During the summer months, Mr. Half-Ton Moose will gobble down about 30 pounds of tender plants a day. During the winter, that total drops to about 10 pounds.

So the NCC’s habitat conservation effort is key. If moose are to meander into Nova Scotia, they’ve got to have a good rest stop where they can fuel up before … well … you know.

Kantar explained that in New Brunswick, like Maine, most of the moose live in the north, where commercial forestlands have provided a veritable buffet of yummy morsels perfect for the growing ungulate. Down south — near our favorite isthmus, and the “Moose Sex Corridor” — the population density is lower. And so is competition for the available food.

“Where there’s moose habitat now, I’m sure there’s forage available for the level of moose that they have, and there’s really no need for them [to move to Nova Scotia],” Kantar said.

That’s not to say that the designated “Moose Sex Corridor” wouldn’t have a few takers.

“You’d think once in awhile a moose would take a joyride someplace,” Kantar said, nearly smiling again.

All of which got me thinking.

A year ago, my hunting buddy and I had a moose permit in Maine’s Wildlife Management District 26. Consider that “Nova Scotia.” There just aren’t many moose there. We didn’t fill our tag.

Is there, I asked Kantar, any chance that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife might consider creating its own “Moose Sex Corridor,” that might entice some amorous moose from a nearby district (think of it as “New Brunswick” into WMD 26?

Again, he nearly laughed. Nearly.

“I don’t think so. Not to disappoint anybody,” he said, staring into my eyes, knowing exactly who he was disappointing. “But no.”

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John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.