Environment Yukon has announced it’s planning to deal with the winter tick problem in elk.
And destroying the elk in a controlled hunt or cull is not likely to be part of that plan.
“I think we’re still a long way off from that decision,” said wildlife veterinarian Michelle Oakley.
“That would be only if worse came to worse and we’re nowhere near that step at all.”
“There was a lot of talk about elk being an invasive species and that we need to invest in moose and caribou and we’re hearing that loud and clear,” she added.
“We’re just hoping that there is a better way to deal with this issue.”
In March and April, biologists captured 18 elk for radio-collaring.
One hundred per cent of the animals were found to be carrying large numbers of winter tick.
The Yukon elk population, which was introduced in the 1950s, has broken off into two separate herds.
The Takhini herd has around 150 elk and the Braeburn herd has 75 to 100.
The telltale signs of winter tick — hair loss and crusting around the antlers — can be seen in significant amounts in both.
But the main concern is not for the elk population, which is not adversely affected by the parasite.
The concern is for moose and caribou.
Both animals are particularly susceptible to tick infestation, which can cause loss of hair, body fat and blood.
Individual moose in the south have been found to carry more than 50,000 ticks.
Such heavy infestation can lead to death from exposure and starvation.
So far, only one Yukon moose has been discovered with ticks. That was near Watson Lake in 1994.
No ticks have been found in moose since then, but it’s only a matter of time, according to retired biologist Grant Lortie.
Earlier this month, Lortie wrote an open letter to Environment Minister Dennis Fentie demanding that something be done.
To deal with the problem, Environment Yukon is proposing a three-phased approach.
It proposes fighting the spread of ticks in late winter, when they are most active feeding and reproducing.
Feed containing ivermectin, an anti-tick medication, is being considered.
It’s possible that deer and moose in the area, which are harvested by First Nations, may also eat the medicated feed.
Environment plans to meet with First Nations to address this concern, and to find a way to ensure these animals don’t eat the feed or that those that do get marked in some way.
However, medicated feed is only a temporary solution.
In the second phase, wildlife managers will meet with experts and concerned groups, such as First Nations, to do a risk assessment and to draft a long-term plan.
Such a plan will be released for public review and comment — the third phase of the plan.
“There are two sides to this assessment: one is technical, and the other is social,” said biologist Rick Ward.
“We have to find out what the Yukon public wants us to do.”