Death of the swamp donkey

Thank goodness for chicken. Without poultry, the territory would be a lot less hospitable place these days.

Thank goodness for chicken.

Without poultry, the territory would be a lot less hospitable place these days.

Once, Yukoners dined on caribou, moose and salmon, shot or caught in their backyards.

But those sources of protein have grown scarce to the point of luxury.

It wasn’t always so.

In the 1980s, hunters reported shooting more than 100 moose in the Southern Lakes region.

Today, only 11 tags are issued in the region. Environment reports that about one or two hunters a season are successful.

It’s possible more moose are being shot in the area by aboriginal hunters, but data on that hunt is not available.

So what’s happening? Why is the moose population in the vicinity of Whitehorse moving towards extirpation?

In the 1960s, ‘70s and into the ‘80s, hunters drove the local highways, shooting game from the windows of their trucks.

But that got progressively harder, was eventually deemed dangerous and banned.

Fortunately, the ATV came along.

As Yukon incomes rose, the vehicles got less expensive and more ubiquitous.

Now, back-country hunting has become effortless.

Rather than hiking into the bush over a couple of days, people can zoom 40 kilometres to once-remote moose pastures in a single morning.

It’s easy.

That’s been great for hunters, both native and nonnative, but it has hammered the moose.

These days, drive to Carcross, or towards Skagway, and you’ll count yourself lucky to see a moose.

Same for Teslin.

Environment officials and First Nation governments have voluntarily restricted hunting of the Southern Lakes caribou herd, which has increased in size to 1,300 animals from 300.

But, with the focus on caribou, the swamp donkey population has declined to dangerously low numbers.

In 2002, it was estimated to be 800, down from 1,800 five years before.

That’s a 44 per cent drop.

A Southern Lakes wildlife committee needs to examine the issue, but with more than nine members from aboriginal, territorial, provincial and federal governments, planning a meeting on the issue is slow going.

And so, six years after the issue was identified by Environment officials, nothing has happened.

Officials can’t specify, exactly, what the current population is. But odds are it’s less than 800.

Maybe the multi-government committee can schedule a meeting.

Perhaps aboriginal hunters will voluntarily stop hunting the animals.

But today, that might not be enough.

It’s probably going to be accompanied by a wolf kill, or sterilization program — expensive and morally dubious, but that’s often the cost of human mismanagement of its wildlife populations.

Even with these measures, it could take 20 years before the Southern Lakes moose population increased to a healthier 2,000.

Which is why Yukon is lucky to have chicken.