hunting sheep culling advice

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If there is a good reason for continuing a sheep hunt on Pilot Mountain, Environment Minister Elaine Taylor should provide it.

So far, she hasn’t.

True, the sheep population on Pilot Mountain, just 50 kilometres from Whitehorse, has grown to 175. But only about 50 of them are rams — which are coveted by big game hunters.

Pilot Mountain rams are particularly popular with the bag-and-stuff crowd because, for some reason, their distinctive horns achieve full curl in six years, two years quicker than sheep in other mountain ranges.

Using the territory’s own guidelines, there are too few rams on Pilot Mountain. Given the size of the herd, there should be at least 70 before hunters are allowed to take any.

Biologist Manfred Hoefs has been studying sheep in the Yukon for 40 years. Acting for the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Mangement Board, he studied the Pilot Mountain flock.

He believes the hunt should be suspended for a couple of years.

Hunting has thrown the flock out of balance, he said.

Also, it may be crippling it in less obvious ways. Sheep teach each other what to do. They depend on their elders to find food in winter and to lead them to the best lambing sites.

Hunters taking the mature males, especially when there are fewer of them, may make the flock less able to survive a harsh winter.

But other biologists dispute this.

Yukon Environment Department officials are reviewing the sheep guidelines, and might decide flocks can remain viable with fewer rams.

Pilot Mountain’s lamb population is simply fluctuating, said Environment biologist Rob Florkiewicz.

There has been a range of rams taken from the mountain in recent years, from six to 13 years, he added. Contesting Hoefs’ claims, he suggested there are still wise old rams on the mountain.

To many this will simply be the sound of two scientists squabbling.

The old, retired biologist has concluded too many rams are being shot off the mountain. The younger biologist, still working for the department, says the old data is too conservative. Flocks can do fine with fewer rams, so all’s

well.

They cancel each other out. And the hunt proceeds.

And that’s the problem.

The Laberge Renewable Resources Council wanted the two-year ban.

The Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board studied the issue at length and recommended the two-year ban.

The government-appointed board, set up through the land claims process, should carry a lot of weight. In this case, its advice was summarily ignored by Taylor, who has failed to say why.

Don Hutton, a former president of the Yukon Party, was chair of the board when the decision was made. (He has since stepped down).

He was befuddled when Taylor rejected the recommendation.

“There was overwhelming public support,” he said. “I guess you’ve got to wonder: what the hell do we do, then? It’s taken a lot of money, a lot of effort, a lot of time. It’s frustrating.”

As a salve, the department has restricted hunting on Pilot Mountain to six permits. But, if six animals were shot, the mountain’s ram population would be reduced by 12 per cent, no small amount.

And a two-year ban does not seem all that onerous. At the end, there would simply be a bigger, older, healthier flock, which is better for all.

The two-year ban had wide public support. The ban was supported by existing science.

The ban was also backed up by the territory’s sheep guidelines, which, though under review, are still in force.

Taylor culled it, and she won’t say why.

She owes the fish and wildlife board, the renewable resource council, Hutton and the Yukon public a sound explanation why shooting 12 rams takes precedence over a flock-enhancing ban.

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