The Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board is asking the government to reconsider its proposed regulation change to roadside grizzly hunting.
The territorial government wants to make it illegal to harvest grizzly bears during the spring hunting season within 30 metres of the centre line of a highway in southwest Yukon.
The board is recommending that Environment Minister Wade Istchenko set aside the regulation because of the complexity of the issue.
Vice-chair Harvey Jessup said he wants the public to know the board’s decision was long in the making and did not happen overnight.
“We attended a lot of meetings, held public meetings in Whitehorse and smaller communities and put a survey on our website,” he said.
“We gathered all this information and digested it. There was no clear consensus.
“There are 12 individuals on the board and we couldn’t come to an agreement, either. Based on what we heard, if you’re going to make it an issue about hunters and wildlife viewers, the proposal didn’t satisfy either camp.”
The hunters thought it was an unreasonable limitation, while the wildlife viewers thought the 30-metre boundary didn’t go far enough, Jessup said.
The board came to the conclusion that the issue was far more complex than could be resolved with a single regulation change, he added.
“We thought if we’re going to recommend this proposal be accepted, it’s not going to make very many people happy,” Jessup said.
Beyond recommending that the regulation change be set aside, the board also came up with two additional recommendations. The first is to support the development of a grizzly bear management plan for the territory.
It could be modeled on existing plans, such as the wolf and wood bison management plans, Jessup said.
“People were reasonably happy with that (wolf) plan and it included some regulation changes about the way people could hunt wolves,” he said.
“Given the fact that grizzlies are so iconic and important, we thought why don’t we build a grizzly management plan. It would take into account the value of bears, where they are and what threats exist, and its importance to humans.”
Given the length of time it would take to develop such a plan – up to two years, Jessup said – the board would set up an educational plan in the interim.
It would work with the tourism department, renewable resource boards, First Nations and non-profits to find a way to educate the public about roadside bear hunting and viewing.
“When you drive down the road and there’s a bear in the ditch, people should appreciate that it might mean a whole lot to the people in the area,” Jessup said.
He cited the example of a blond grizzly bear that was legally shot and killed on the Tagish Road in the spring of 2013.
The killing sparked an outcry among residents who had become fond of the bear, which had lived in the area for years.
It prompted some residents to deliver a petition to Yukon’s legislature calling for an end to bear hunting within a kilometre of Yukon roads.
In a rare instance, the minister has waived the confidentiality provision of the board’s recommendations and made them available to the public before reaching a decision on the matter.
And that’s good news, Jessup said.
“It helps us because oftentimes it puts the board in an awkward position when it isn’t able to explain its recommendations until the minister reaches a decision,” he said.
“This is the first time I can remember where a minister has done that. Now people can call the board up and ask why it made those recommendations.
“And I guess from the minister’s perspective his phone could be ringing off the wall, that might be the only risk, that he’d be lobbied like crazy between now and the time he has to make a decision.”
As of Feb. 2, Istchenko has 60 days to respond to the board’s recommendations, with the option of a 30-day extension.
The grizzly bear hunt is open in the spring from April 15 to June 21, and again from Aug. 1 to Nov. 15.
Yukoners are only allowed to kill one grizzly bear every three years, Jessup said, as opposed to two black bears per year.
And based on the data the board has received, the chances of a bear being shot along the road is one in every two years.
“This isn’t a conservation issue,” he said.
“The bear’s value as a viewing opportunity should be recognized just as much as its value as a trophy. That’s what the board tried to convey but we can’t seem to please everybody.”
In a news release on Monday, Istchenko said he had no specific comments to make at this time about the board’s recommendations.
He said he and his cabinet colleagues would be giving the matter “considerable reflection before coming to a formal decision.”
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