by Tanner Sinclair
I moved to Whitehorse a year ago after spending the past 16 summers in outfitting camps guiding sheep hunts. Based on my many years of experience in the industry and thousands of hours in the field I know that true sheep hunters and mountain hunters not only work hard but also respect the environment they hunt and travel in.
They do not drive their ATVs up on top of mountains into the fragile alpine terrain; they put on a backpack or pack up a string of horses and hike or ride on horseback into the wilderness. The raw beauty and the remoteness of this land is what drew myself and many others to the Yukon. The raw beauty that many take for granted will cease to exist if unregulated ATV use continues in alpine and other sensitive areas in Yukon.
I am not 100 per cent against ATVs. They have their place and when used with respect they are a great hobby and great way to spend time with family and friends. Their place, however, is not on the tops of mountains in sheep country and lambing grounds. I have witnessed firsthand the destruction to the fragile environment and the unnecessary pressure they put on Yukon’s sheep and other animal populations and know something must be done.
Some people say that regulating ATVs is taking away individual’s freedom to enjoy the outdoors. What about my freedom and the freedom of many others who choose to enjoy the outdoors in peace and quiet and in a way that respects the land? Many Yukoners, including myself, want to be able to hike into sheep country and not see tracks torn into the alpine by ATVs. I am tired of seeing weekend warriors tearing up the side of the mountains and would rather see people in that same backcountry who worked hard to get there and respect the land while being there. As Yukoners, everyone has the right to enjoy the wilderness but not at the unnecessary cost of the wildlife or the environment they travel in.
The more we ignore this issue the more the territory shows the abuse. Ask anyone who has flown around Whitehorse or around Faro and they will agree that the ever-expanding spider web of ATV tracks leave definite impact on the environment. I have witnessed first hand what ATVs did to southern Alberta in the Rocky Mountains where I was born and raised.
Until there was regulation and a trail system put into effect, unregulated ATV use had a hugely negative impact on the wildlife in that area. All other areas in North America have learned the hard way and now have regulations in place to protect the sensitive areas that remain from the destruction that comes along with irresponsible ATV use. Why does the Yukon government have such a hard time acting on something that has been proven time and time again in other jurisdictions?
Studies from Yukon government biologists, private biologists and observations from residents and conservation officers continually state the same things. ATV use in alpine areas have negative effects on sheep populations. Bands of sheep in the Fish Lake, Ibex Mountain, Alligator Lake, and Pilot Mountain areas have all shown these negative effects as the result of the unregulated ATV use. Despite this, the problem has continued to grow simply because it has largely been ignored by governments who refuse to act. With no regulations in place there are no consequences for irresponsible ATV operation and the problem continues to grow.
If the Yukon does not act on this soon we will not have a general hunting season in most subzones for animals that rely on the alpine and sensitive areas for habitat. Putting the pressured areas on a permit hunt is not the answer. Education alone as a solution is not effective as trails continue to expand throughout the territory.
The answer is ATV regulation and consequences to those who break the rules. It has worked in many other areas across Canada and it will work here in the Yukon. It is time for the Yukon government to step up and do something positive for the territory before a few irresponsible individuals ruin a special thing for everyone else and future generations to come.
For those who want to pursue wildlife that lives high on the mountains: save your money on your ATVs and invest in a good backpack and a good pair of boots. Get out there and hunt the right way. Respect the territory you call home and earn that set of sheep horns and meat that few people in the world have the privilege to enjoy.
Tanner Sinclair is a former sheep hunting guide who lives in Whitehorse.