The grizzly bear population is well and steady, the Yukon’s environment minister told the legislature last week in response to a petition tabled by Yukon NDP MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin Annie Blake.
Hundreds of names are signed onto the petition calling on the Yukon Legislative Assembly to urge the territorial government to ban all trophy and roadside hunting of grizzly bears throughout the territory.
Blake also referred in the house to an online petition started by Lea Bayliss of Grizzly Bear Protection Yukon to stop trophy hunting for grizzly bears in the Yukon with 37,000 names on it.
Environment Minister Nils Clarke responded to the petition containing 927 signatures on Nov. 9.
While Clarke acknowledged their concerns and the fact that grizzly bears are listed as a species of special concern in Canada, he said department data and local and traditional knowledge holders indicate the grizzly bear population in the Yukon is “stable and healthy.”
Clarke noted the only requirement under the federal Species at Risk Act is to come up with a management plan.
The territory’s first conservation plan for grizzly bears was released in 2019, he said. It is built on Western science and traditional knowledge. Since then, Clarke noted that work has been done to monitor and study bear populations, particularly in the central Yukon.
An estimate pegs the grizzly bear population in the Yukon at 6,000 to 7,000, but the true number is unknown, according to a spokesperson for the Environment department. That estimate was derived in the 1990s based on biologists’ understanding of how many bears could live in various regions given habitats and not considering the effects of development, as well as information collected in the 1980s.
Ultimately, more bears will be found in “good” habitats, and fewer bears will be found in “moderate to poor quality” habitats, per the department. Biologists familiar with bears in the Yukon have come up with population density estimates for areas with similar type, quality and quantity of environmental resources.
Clarke addressed the two points in the petition.
He said the Yukon government recently changed regulations to allow the minister to set out the number of grizzly bears that can be hunted within 100 metres of a highway’s centre line.
“The regulation establishes an adaptive framework that allows for local community or First Nation governments to request a prohibition of roadside hunting of grizzly bears in their area,” he said. “Upon the receipt of such a request, we would engage with the local First Nation, renewable resources council and the community on the proposal.”
Roadside grizzly bear hunting is prohibited on certain roads and highways south of Whitehorse.
Clarke noted that hunting animals is intended to be done sustainably while respecting wildlife conservation and Indigenous subsistence harvest rights.
There were more than 2,400 grizzly bear seals sold in the 2022-23 hunting season, although that number doesn’t reflect the actual rate of harvesting, per the department. Since 1995, on average, 28 grizzly bears are harvested by residents and more than 40 are harvested by non-residents each year. In 2022, a total of 56 grizzly bears were harvested in the Yukon.
Approximately 80 grizzly bears are reportedly killed each year by humans, including deaths from vehicle collisions, hunting and in defence of life or property, per Clarke. That makes up just over 1 per cent of the grizzly bear population, which falls below the acceptable rate.
“Four per cent is widely accepted as the total sustainable mortality rate in a given bear management unit,” Clarke said.
Licensed hunters, resident and non-resident, are allowed to hunt one grizzly bear every three licensed years. It is illegal to hunt cubs or adult females accompanied by cubs.
“Based on the evidence we have heard, the grizzly bear population in the Yukon appears stable, and the harvest of bears is well within sustainable levels,” Clarke said.
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