First Nation challenge opens road to hunters

A new kind of road kill in the territory troubles Yukon Conservation Society spokesperson Lewis Rifkind.

A new kind of road kill in the territory troubles Yukon Conservation Society spokesperson Lewis Rifkind.

This week, the government abandoned its 500-metre, no-hunting corridor on the Dempster Highway.

Regulations banning people from bagging the first few caribou in the herd — the leaders — are also not being enforced.

 “We’re a little concerned,” said Rifkind, who questions how a case of legal uncertainty can lead to a decision that may have negative consequences on the Porcupine caribou herd, which has been declining in recent years.

The rules won’t be enforced because they were challenged by a member of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation, according to a government release.

“This year the government will not be enforcing the 500-metre no-hunting corridor or the one-week closure allowing the caribou leaders to pass,” the release said.

“These changes follow a recent decision to stay charges against a Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation citizen, and take into consideration concerns expressed by First Nations user communities and the pending effort by the Porcupine Caribou Management Board to develop a harvest management strategy for the herd.”

No one from the Yukon’s Environment department was available to talk about the issue.

The decision raises troubling questions, said Rifkind.

“Those laws are now not being enforced because there’s a legal case where the proceedings were stayed,” he said.

“We haven’t changed the regulations, we’re just not enforcing them. Where’s the environmental science in that?”

Environmental decisions that protect the caribou herd should be based on data — data that is still being collected, he said.

“Regrettably, we don’t have as much data on the Porcupine caribou as we’d like.

“What does this mean for the future of those animals? Will there be an increase in the number of animals taken? Probably.”

Rifkind and the conservation society are calling for the regulations to be enforced until such time as not enforcing them can be scientifically proven to be a good idea, or at least not a bad one.

“They said they were going to follow up with discussions, but the decision has already been made,” he said.

“It should have been done the other way around.”