It’s time to deal with
Open letter to Environment Minister Dennis Fentie:
The recent finding of the winter or moose tick in both sub-populations of introduced Elk (Takhini & Braeburn) poses a very serious threat to moose in southwestern Yukon.
Moose suffer far greater debilitating consequences when exposed to this tick than do other ungulate hosts such as elk and deer, both of which are increasing in numbers, particularly in game management zones 5 and 7.
In 1993, in good faith, your department introduced additional elk to bolster a zero-growth and unproductive elk population originally introduced in the early 1950s.
Unfortunately with them was a hitchhiker — moose tick.
The presence of moose tick was known, but prevailing “expert” advice from people accompanying the trans-shipment of the 1993 elk was the moose tick couldn’t survive our winters.
Well, 13 winters have come and gone and of the 20 or so elk captured last year for radio collaring — 100 per cent were carrying moose ticks.
Moose in zone 5 and particularly zone 7 have been under strict and conservative harvest management for 20 years due to a prior history of local overharvest and continuing predation on calves, primarily by bears.
This scenario still prevails — having defeated any policy initiative to ameliorate the situation for two decades, your department has a problem — it does not know how to make moose in zones 5 & 7.
It now has another problem and one of its own making, exposing these moose to a new and potentially devastating factor — moose ticks.
Further, four populations of woodland caribou range marginally peripheral to the present known elk distributions: Aishihik and Klaza herds west of Carmacks and the Carcross and Ibex herds south and west of Whitehorse.
Costly management programs including predator control in the recent past have produced positive recovery results in all four herds.
Will caribou ultimately enter the equation’?
What to do?
Fentie, you have within your department several skilled and conscientious people to affect a solution — all they require is a go ahead and sufficient resources to do so. There is a range of possible solutions.
First and probably the least costly, is the systematic elimination of all free ranging elk in southwestern Yukon.
This seemingly unpleasant option could be accomplished with public participation through supervised hunting, an outright government cull or a combination of both.
The advantages are that things get done quickly and cost effectively.
Ugly, but cheap.
This option will generate debate publicly and no doubt dissenting opinion within your department.
This is good, as it may lead to an alternative solution.
If debate finds that elk are a valued faunal component, the second option now is to capture and quarantine for two years sufficient numbers of elk to ensure their survival when reintroduced to their presently occupied range.
Remaining free ranging elk would be destroyed.
This option is prettier, but much more expensive.
Other possible alternatives may emerge.
While elk and moose ticks are outside their traditional cultural experience, at least four First Nations no doubt will want to be a part of the process.
Fentie, these little nasties are not leaving voluntarily.
Hand wringing and indecision won’t do.
They are going to require a real hard shove — and soon.
Concomitant with increasing elk and deer populations is range expansion and the problem gets bigger.
I encourage you to act and provide your people the direction and resources to find an effective solution.
To do nothing in the least is irresponsible, and if this threat gets loose another term comes to mind, but I am not sure it is the right one — criminal negligence.
I sincerely wish you good luck in determining your approbations.
Grant Lortie, wildlife biologist (retired)
I was very impressed with the show of carving on display at Arts Underground, which continues until Wednesday.
A revival, long overdue, of First Nation skills, produced in the Sundog Retreat carving program.
This is an opportunity to encourage emerging artists.
Hopefully this program will continue, and perhaps in some of our public buildings, give more space to purchase and display this work.
True northern art.