Aerial wolf hunting off the table

It looks as if the days when wolves were hunted by helicopter in the Yukon are over.

It looks as if the days when wolves were hunted by helicopter in the Yukon are over.

The recommended Yukon wolf conservation and management plan, released Monday, rules out this method of keeping the animals at bay as both pricey and ineffective.

Instead, the plan proposes encouraging hunting and trapping in areas where wolf numbers are a concern.

There are approximately 4,500 wolves in the Yukon, spread across two-thirds of the territory’s landmass. Their population is considered to be healthy and stable.

That’s good news for conservationists. Not so much for hunters, who seek to shoot the same animals that wolves love to feast on: moose and sheep.

Wolves also earn the ire of rural residents for feasting on family dogs.

Yukon’s existing wolf management plan, created in 1992, encourages curbing wolf numbers with aerial hunting. It’s a product of its time: from 1983 until 1997, Yukon government officials shot wolves from helicopter.

This method was criticized for being both unsporting and inhumane, because of the difficulty of making a clean shot from the air. It’s also not a long-term solution: wolf numbers quickly bounce back.

But Alaskan authorities still hunt wolves from aircraft today.

The Yukon abandoned aerial hunting in favour of surgical sterilization. But this program, pursued from the 1990s until 2003, also had limited success and proved pricey.

So the proposed plan leans heavily on local hunters, and suggests a number of ways to encourage them to hunt wolves, by waiving fees and lifting bag limits.

“This is not something we envision to be territory-wide,” said Harvey Jessup, co-chair of the review committee. “It would be very localized.”

But obstacles to this approach remain. And planners say, in some cases, it’s beyond their mandate to fix them.

The number of trappers in the territory is dwindling. This is partly because of economics: a wolf pelt doesn’t fetch enough money for many people to bother trapping the animals.

Culture also plays a role: younger people show little interest in bush life.

And Yukon’s messy trapline system makes it difficult for new trappers to get a toehold in the territory. Many trapline concessions are controlled by families who have historic claims and are currently being underused.

Others aren’t being used because of overlapping claims by different First Nations. Or trappers are reluctant to take on assistants.

Renewable resource councils are trying to clean up this mess. But they’re hampered by legal requirements to have trappers commercially sell their furs, and by community fears that traditional family harvesting is disappearing, according to a report to government produced by the planning committee.

The recommended plan was a year in the making. Public meetings were staged in every community. Everywhere the committee went, there was little appetite to revisit aerial hunting.

Find a copy of the report at Comments can be submitted until August 31.

Contact John Thompson at