extinction by consensus

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Far too often, bureaucracy and a destructive focus on historic wrongs hinder wildlife management decisions.

It’s time for that to change.

Take the Porcupine caribou herd.

Its numbers have fallen from 178,000 animals in 1989 to an estimated 100,000 today. But that number is almost guaranteed to be ridiculously overstated.

Fact is, nobody knows how many Porcupine caribou there are.

The 100,000 figure comes from the last census, which was done in 2001. Since then, the caribou have not been counted.

What we do know is that between 1989 and 2001 – 12 years – the herd dropped 78,000 animals.

And we know the herd hasn’t been counted in eight years.

We don’t know how the changing climate is stressing the herd.

And we don’t know how many are hunted.

The estimate is about 4,000 a year. Again, it’s only a guess because nobody, except licenced hunters, has been forced to report their kills.

So we don’t know how many are being harvested every year. And we don’t know how many animals there are to harvest.

Essentially, we know nothing.

Yet we continue to hunt like it’s 1989.

Which is why it is encouraging to see the Yukon Environment Department place restrictions on the number of caribou that hunters can bag on the Dempster.

This week, the government announced a blanket ban on the hunting of cow caribou. And hunters can only take a single bull, down from two.

Also, all kills must be reported.

These are all good management decisions.

Enforcing them will be something else entirely.

Aboriginal hunters often don’t like being told to curb their hunting. And they don’t like reporting their kills to government – any government.

They have historic rights to hunt animals on their traditional territory.

However, far too often, the question today is whether they have a right to blast the critters off the planet.

Hunters of all races have gotten particularly good at harvesting game.

Our rifles are beautifully machined and balanced, our scopes bright and clear and our vehicles powerful and, while not particularly fuel efficient, they are great at opening previously inaccessible glades to hunters. They also

make it easy to transport heavy bags of meat back to the road.

The animals are running out of places to hide. They are getting hammered.

The Yukon government can place restrictions on nonnative hunters. They can prosecute people who break the rules.

But aboriginal hunters are exempt, unless a “valid conservation reason” exists.

And so, we’re in a position where the government has to put in interim restrictions. It doesn’t really have the authority, when it comes to aboriginal hunters, to do much else.

So, it has its seemingly strong regulations, but it won’t be prosecuting. Instead, it will focus on educating hunters rather than issuing tickets.

It is unwilling to issue tickets because it lacks the authority to do so.

The goal is to put the brakes on while the Porcupine Caribou Management Board drafts rules everyone can live with.

Problem is, when you’re dealing with a panel of civil servants from three levels of government, progress is geologically slow. And the killing happens fast.

The management board has been grappling with the decline of the Porcupine herd for years. Now it has a draft plan, but it’s much less onerous than the Yukon’s stop-gap regulations. For example, it suggests a voluntary

bull-only hunt.

You can imagine how effective that will be on a remote highway that is hundreds of kilometres long.

And the draft management plan is currently under review. Then there will have to be a summit. Then there will have to be a draft decision. Then there will probably have to be more input ….

Such gridlock is fairly common when it comes to dealing with aboriginal hunting issues.

We’ve seen it with Southern Lakes moose populations.

In 2002, after the population dropped to an estimated 800 animals, from 1,800 five years before, a wildlife committee was struck to come up with solutions to save the animals from extirpation.

Today, seven years later, little has been produced by the nine-member, federal, territorial and First Nation panel.

There are not many moose left in the Southern Lakes region.

Which leads us to suggest that Old Crow will have to learn to like beef.