Time for tough bison love

The Aishihik wood bison herd seems to be a science project gone awry. First introduced into the Yukon wilderness in the early 1980s, as part of a national recovery program...

The Aishihik wood bison herd seems to be a science project gone awry.

First introduced into the Yukon wilderness in the early 1980s, as part of a national recovery program for the species, the experiment has succeeded beyond its promoters’ wildest dreams.

Or failed.

Depending on how you look at it.

More than 25 years later the herd’s population has more than tripled its original target. Thirteen years of hunting has done nothing to curtail the explosive growth.

The numbers speak volumes.

In the beginning, 142 bison were transplanted from Elk Island National Park, the Toronto Zoo and a Moose Jaw game farm to a five-square-kilometre corral in the Nisling River Valley.

The goal was to end up with a herd of at least 400.

Between 1988 and 1992, 170 bison were released from that enclosure to fend for themselves.

And fend they did.

By the late 1990s, more than 500 bison roamed a huge region, bordered on the south by the Alaska Highway and on the east by the North Klondike Highway.

The herd was deemed healthy and hunters were allowed to start harvesting the shaggy beasts.

In the years since, many Yukoners enjoyed feasting on bison meat, after pursuing the herd through the cold and the snow, but they didn’t so much as put a dint in the population.

On the contrary, it just continued to grow. And the bison got wise to the ways of hunters on snowmobiles.

Even though nearly 700 bison permits were handed out in 2010/11, only 119 bison were harvested. It wasn’t much better the season before that – only 152 bison were killed but 800 permits were given out.

Today the herd is estimated at 1,230 – far and above what wildlife managers first envisioned. Now they’re scratching their heads wondering what to do.

There’s some concern about the herd’s toll on the area. Big animals leave a big footprint: not only on the land but also on the other wildlife that were there first, such as moose, caribou and sheep.

Managers question whether the transplanted bison are upsetting the delicate balance and damaging fragile ecosystems. They’re even working their way up into the alpine.

Others worry about the hazard they pose to highway travellers, and then there’s the threat of disease.

Studying and managing the herd and the hunt consumes precious resources at Environment Yukon, a department that already suffers from neglect and underfunding.

That’s time and money that could be used to look after other wildlife populations in the Yukon.

This month is the public’s last chance to weigh in as the government prepares a new management plan.

The draft has put forward four simple choices:

1) a herd less than 500

2) a herd of about 500

3) a herd between 1,000 to 1,230

4) a herd greater than 1,000

The right answer seems like it’s a no-brainer – either #1 or #2.

And that’s likely what the Yukoners who take the time to play manage-the-bison-herd will pick.

The bigger question will be whether the government will have the nerve to make the tough call when all the dust has settled.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before conducting a test with it on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
An inside look at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre

As the active COVID-19 case count grew last week, so too did… Continue reading

Conservation officers search for a black bear in the Riverdale area in Whitehorse on Sept. 17. The Department of Environment intends to purchase 20 semi-automatic AR-10 rifles, despite the inclusion of the weapons in a recently released ban introduced by the federal government, for peace officers, such as conservation officers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Environment Minister defends purchase of AR-10 rifles for conservation officers

The federal list of banned firearms includes an exception for peace officers

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The K-shaped economic recovery and what Yukoners can do about it

It looks like COVID-19 will play the role of Grinch this holiday… Continue reading

Jodie Gibson has been named the 2020 Prospector of the Year by the Yukon Prospectors Association. (Submitted)
Jodie Gibson named 2020 Prospector of the Year

Annual award handed out by the Yukon Prospector’s Association

A number 55 is lit in honour of Travis Adams, who died earlier this year, at the Winter Wonderland Walk at Meadow Lakes Golf Club in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A new take on holiday traditions

Winter Wonderland Walk, virtual Stories with Santa all part of 2020 festive events in Whitehorse

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Most Read