With decades of farming under his belt, Dwight Eveleigh is used to a moose or two occasionally nibbling at his crops.
But he’s never seen anything like 2019.
“This is the worst year yet, by far,” said Eveleigh, the owner of Triple E Farms in Comfort Cove.
“This year, it’s been every single night. Six, seven, eight moose at a time.… I don’t think I’d be saying a word of a lie by saying there are 25 moose at least coming through the farm this year.”
In decimating about a third of his overall cabbage crop — seven acres’ worth — along with carrots, turnips and parsnips, Eveleigh estimates the moose have cost him about $100,000 this growing season.
“The moose walked away with it,” he said. “It’s a big loss.”
In the past, Eveleigh availed of a special provincial permit, granting farmers the ability to shoot moose at night. When he went to get such a licence this year, he was taken aback to discover that it had quietly been discontinued.
Instead, he was told to shoot them during the day, shoo them away, or phone wildlife officers — the nearest ones stationed in Lewisporte, a 30-minute drive away — to shoot or shoo, which Eveleigh said is mostly a futile effort by the time they show up.
“You can drive them off, but they’ll only be back again. And they’re not out at daytime, so you can’t shoot something that’s not there,” he said.
A safety concern
The province changed legislation to ban farmers from hunting moose at night in 2018, but Eveleigh and other farmers CBC News spoke to say they were never given any notice of the change.
The closest thing to a public government announcement came Nov. 7 when Gerry Byrne, the Liberal minister overseeing provincial agriculture, accused PC MHA Jim Lester of supporting poachers, and possibly breaking the new law himself, when Lester raised the issue in the House of Assembly.
Lester is both the official opposition critic for agriculture, and a farmer.
The Department of Fisheries and Land Resources said it began an “informal engagement” about its moose policies with farmers back in 2015, and ended up changing the rules on shooting at night in 2018. It said farmers were “made aware” of the change directly.
“We’ve had farmers that clearly knew about this,” Byrne told CBC News, although he noted there have been complaints as a result of the change.
“Farmers have indicated that they’ve lost crops as a result. This is not to minimize or to marginalize the impact of this, [but] we’ve had crop damage many, many times in the past. We will in the future.”
Byrne said the legislation was amended to exclude night hunting for safety reasons, although there was no specific incident that prompted the change.
“There is a genuine risk to innocent people, through the firing of high-powered rifles at night. And that has to be mitigated,” he said.
“I recognize there are financial losses that have occurred, but the risk to the general public from the firing of high-powered rifles at night is legitimate.”
While 20,000 moose licences are issued each year for hunters, Byrne said, only 30 or so are given to farmers, who are still able to use them to shoot moose during the day, at any time of the year.
The province also subsidizes crop insurance for farmers and provides grants to help cover the cost of fencing.
While Eveleigh said he found out about the hunting change too late in the growing season to put up fences to deter moose, he said such a measure has rarely worked in the past. Moose or storms knock them down, or people cut through them to snowmobile across his fields in the winter.
Philip Thornley of Campbellton Berry Farm can relate to those fencing woes.
Do we only grow plants that these predators don’t go after?
– Philip Thornley
He’s erected two electric fences that he says don’t provide enough of a shock to really stop a moose intent on his fruits, which have proved irresistible in the past.
“They’ve done tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage over the years, and it’s very hard to guard against. They only have to sneak in here for a few hours and they can do a lot of damage,” he said.
Moose have pruned back his raspberry canes, nipped his plum trees, and munched on his brussels sprouts, sometimes simply taking a bite out of each stalk with that mouthful rendering its value nil.
Getting provincial wildlife officers into the fields to shoot moose isn’t happening, he said, as they have become focused on poaching problems.
“Wildlife is very reluctant to do that. They used to get engaged in actively eliminating moose from farms,” he said.
“But I think wildlife services have been cut back, because that doesn’t seem to be available as a service anymore.”
Future of farming
Both farmers lament the dent moose are making in the businesses, as well as the larger effort to increase food security on the island.
Newfoundland and Labrador has the fewest farms of any Canadian province, and that number is shrinking. While the province has committed to double agriculture production to at least 20 per cent of the overall food supply by 2022, how that squares with the seemingly insatiable agricultural appetite moose have remains to be seen.
Both Thornley and Eveleigh are taking part in a province-led vegetable transplant program as part of that production promise. This past year, Thornley received 40,000 transplants, while Eveleigh got 171,600 — many of which went into feeding moose, instead of people.
“It’s a good program, but if you’re going to put in transplants and have the moose take it, there’s not much point to it,” Eveleigh said.
Surveying his damaged plum orchard, Thornley had more questions than answers for a way forward.
“Are we going to grow plums in Newfoundland? Are we gonna be self-sufficient in raspberries and strawberries and all this stuff? How do we do it?” he said.
“Do we only grow plants that these predators don’t go after?”
He’d like to see the ability to at least shoot moose during the day year round, as he said his perennial plants get preyed upon in any season — as it stands, the province only allows such hunting from June to December.
Eveleigh would be OK with the province simply undoing the changes it made in 2018.
“I’d like to see it go back to the way it was,” he said.