Should moose be elim­i­nated from the is­land?

The Compass - - OPINION - BY CHES CROS­BIE

The ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion to the car­nage caused by moose col­lid­ing with hu­mans on our high­ways is to kill all the moose on the is­land. So says Steven Fletcher, a Manitoba MP and Min­is­ter of Trans­port for Canada, him­self left a quad­ri­plegic af­ter a 1996 moose/ve­hi­cle col­li­sion: “Moose cull makes sense for road safety,” Tele­gram, Aug. 10, 2013.

As Min­is­ter Fletcher re­cites, moose are not na­tive to the is­land of New­found­land and were in­tro­duced by gov­ern­ment, they cause great en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age (enough for the two na­tional parks on the is­land to in­sti­tute a mas­sive cull), and they cause about 800 ve­hi­cle col­li­sions per year.

We can un­der­stand why vic­tims of this pub­lic safety cri­sis might favour the dras­tic road safety so­lu­tion of a com­plete cull. Fletcher points to other ef­fec­tive so­lu­tions such as fenc­ing and in­creased hunt­ing with­out to­tal elim­i­na­tion of moose, but states the tru­ism that “the only fool­proof method to elim­i­nate moose col­li­sions is to elim­i­nate the moose.”

As class coun­sel to the moose ve­hi­cle col­li­sion class ac­tion, I have learned a lot about the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment’s anal­y­sis and ap­proach to the moose/ve­hi­cle col­li­sion prob­lem, and I want to share a few ideas with read­ers to in­form the de­bate.

No gov­ern­ment pol­icy

The moose/ve­hi­cle col­li­sion prob­lem is an eco­nomic, so­cial and po­lit­i­cal prob­lem which presents an is­sue of core gov­ern­men­tal pol­icy mak­ing. It is not an is­sue which class ac­tion law­suits and courts can di­rectly re­solve. The prob­lem has been that un­til the moose class ac­tion was launched, there was no core gov­ern­men­tal pol­icy on mit­i­ga­tion of moose/ve­hi­cle col­li­sions.

In our sys­tem of gov­ern­ment, the role of pub­lic of­fi­cials is to as­sist the ex­ec­u­tive in iden­ti­fy­ing pub­lic pol­icy is­sues, con­duct a rea­son­able level of re­search on the op­tions, and pro­vide pol­icy ad­vice.

The role of the ex­ec­u­tive level of gov­ern­ment, mean­ing min­is­ters, pre­mier and cab­i­net, is to de­cide core gov­ern­men­tal pol­icy is­sues. The job of gov­ern­ment is to gov­ern, and whether to take dras­tic mea­sures to mit­i­gate moose/ve­hi­cle col­li­sions, take in­ter­me­di­ate sci­ence-based mea­sures, or take no mea­sures at all, is a de­ci­sion for min­is­ters and cab­i­net led by the pre­mier.

The great fail­ure of gov­ern­ment on the moose/ve­hi­cle col­li­sion mit­i­ga­tion is­sue is that it has not gov­erned.

For decades, the cab­i­nets of suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments failed to de­cide what core gov­ern­men­tal pol­icy should be on moose/ve­hi­cle col­li­sion mit­i­ga­tion — un­til that is, gov­ern­ment got sued in Jan­uary 2011. Gov­ern­ment did not de­cide to do noth­ing. In­stead, it sim­ply made no de­ci­sion. This is a mat­ter of record in doc­u­ments filed in court by the gov­ern­ment it­self.

In July 2011, gov­ern­ment an­nounced that it would in­vest about $5 mil­lion in a se­ries of ini­tia­tives aimed at re­duc­ing the num­ber of moose/ve­hi­cle col­li­sions, in­clud­ing wildlife fenc­ing and de­tec­tion sys­tems and an in­crease in the num­ber of moose hunt­ing li­cences by more than 5,000. This was the re­sult of a per­sonal in­ter­ven­tion by Pre­mier Kathy Dun­derdale, and she de­serves full credit for tak­ing a pol­icy de­ci­sion and do­ing the hard job of gov­ern­ing.

This is not to say that gov­ern­ment did noth­ing about moose/ve­hi­cle col­li­sions be­fore July 2011. A com­par­a­tively small amount of money was in­vested in stan­dard moose warn­ing signs, clear­ing of road­side brush and in­creas­ing pub­lic aware­ness of the dan­ger. But th­ese ini­tia­tives were taken at the pub­lic of­fi­cials level in de­fault of for­mal guid­ance from cab­i­net.

Pub­lic of­fi­cials did what they thought they could do within the scope of their au­thor­ity and of ex­ist­ing bud­gets, and with­out any pol­icy di­rec­tion from cab­i­net.

This is also not to be crit­i­cal of any pre­vi­ous pre­mier. Premiers and min­is­ters did not re­ceive ac­cu­rate ad­vice from pub­lic of­fi­cials on the proven op­tions to tackle the moose/ve­hi­cle col­li­sion cri­sis, and premiers sel­dom in­ter­vene in de­part­men­tal pol­icy is­sues which have not reached the cab­i­net agenda.

There is good re­li­able sci­ence on what works to mit­i­gate moose/ve­hi­cle col­li­sions. Fenc­ing and re­duc­tion in moose den­si­ties sur­round­ing high­ways are two proven ef­fec­tive strate­gies. There is sci­en­tific con­sen­sus as to what mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures work. If we make a pub­lic pol­icy com­mit­ment to ef­fec­tive mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures, ex­perts ad­vise that we can re­duce moose/ve­hi­cle col­li­sions on the is­land by more than 50 per cent over a five-year pe­riod.

Op­pos­ing views

Some may think that gov­ern­ment should do noth­ing. Some may think that gov­ern­ment should cull all moose. Some may think that moose are a val­ued ad­di­tion to our cul­tural and eco­nomic land­scapes and that a pro­gram of fenc­ing and re­duc­tion of moose den­si­ties is the way to go.

Th­ese are le­git­i­mate points of view in a demo­cratic so­ci­ety.

Fi­nally, gov­ern­ment is lis­ten­ing, learn­ing and de­vel­op­ing moose strat­egy op­tions. Next year, when re­sults from the moose fenc­ing and moose de­tec­tion sys­tem pi­lot projects are avail­able, gov­ern­ment will make another core pol­icy choice about moose/ve­hi­cle col­li­sion mit­i­ga­tion. Prompted, per­haps, by a lit­tle law­suit.

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