Soon, Yukoners must tackle a pretty fundamental question: What sort of place do they want to live in?
Admittedly, this is a pretty broad question. For the sake of this little piece, let’s parse it.
Do Yukon residents want to live in a boreal forest that is wild – filled with lynx and rabbits and coyotes and foxes and bears and marten and caribou and moose ….?
Do you want to hear the haunting call of the wolf?
Or haunting silence? And gunfire?
That is, do you want to live in a meat factory?
Now that’s a lovely image.
But that’s what you create when you monkey with the predator-prey system that’s evolved in the territory over the last 10,000 years.
That’s the conclusion of Bob Hayes, who oversaw the Yukon’s last great wolf kill.
He’s a biologist. Specifically, he was the Yukon’s wolf biologist. And, between 1982 and 1997, he did his job – conducting wolf-control programs.
That is, he oversaw the killing of wolves to boost moose and caribou populations so local hunters and outfitters could shoot them.
The program took a toll on Hayes, professionally and personally.
He is a scientist, after all. And wolves were creatures he’d chosen to spend his life studying.
One of the things he studied was what happens when you kill them off.
In total, 849 wolves were shot by helicopter crews in the Aishihik, Finlayson and Coast Mountains.
Hayes kept notes and numbers seeking to gauge whether the grand experiment in wildlife management worked.
His conclusion: It didn’t.
Today, after years of costly wolf killing, there are just as many wolves as before – about 4,000. The money was wasted.
And, 10 years later, there’s no increase in moose. Or caribou. Another failure.
The territory got a bloody reputation for killing a signature species – tourism took a hit. And the local community was split into two factions. Hayes was among those who lost good friendships through his participation in the program.
And for what?
The Yukon has low moose populations for good reason – the wilderness is in balance. Wolves and moose are in balance, said Hayes.
People have to work themselves into that system. You game it at your peril.
But the territory is booming. People are moving here. Mines are opening. Power plants and subdivisions are being built.
Some are breathlessly predicting the territory’s population could hit 100,000. Whoohoo!
But this place is going to get a whole lot more crowded.
And many of these people own rifles. And ATVs and motorbikes. And boats.
Once isolated, moose pastures are now an hour away.
But even now, longtime hunters are starting to find game a little more scarce.
Well, it’s only going to get worse.
What’s going to give?
More regulation? Or the status quo?
Will there be fewer hunting permits per capita, or fewer predators?
What sort of place do we want to live in?
Last November, the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board and Environment Yukon started reviewing the territory’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.
It guides decisions that ensure the long-term survival of wolf populations in the Yukon, according to a release.
A bit of doublespeak, that.
The whole initiative is really about killing wolves, not conserving them.
The best way to conserve them is to leave them alone. And to ensure people don’t shoot too many moose and caribou, throwing the system out of balance.
A public review will determine whether the wolf conservation plan will be revised.
The process wraps up in July.
The question for residents is whether they want to live in a functioning wilderness. Or a meat factory.
What sort of place do you want to live in?
The pressure is mounting. It’s only going to get worse.
So what’ll it be? (Richard Mostyn)