Bison population continues to boom

Environment Yukon is asking hunters to help curb the territory's growing wood bison population. Following this summer's census, there are an estimated 1,470 animals in the herd, according to Yukon biologist Tom Jung.

Environment Yukon is asking hunters to help curb the territory’s growing wood bison population.

Following this summer’s census, there are an estimated 1,470 animals in the herd, according to Yukon biologist Tom Jung.

That’s almost 500 over the limit set in a 2012 management plan.

But had the census been carried out post-hunt, or just after March 31, the number would have been 1,136.

The census is usually carried out in July because the bison gather on top of mountains then and are easy to spot.

“A lot of calves were born this year and it’s a bit of an issue,” Jung said.

There are ongoing concerns about the bison herd’s impacts on its surroundings, he said.

There is always the threat of bison wandering onto highways and causing accidents, and some worry the animals may be displacing other species, like moose and caribou.

Despite loosening the rules to encourage more hunters to target wood bison, their numbers have steadily increased over the years.

It’s estimated there was just over 1,300 of them following the last census, which took place in July 2011.

Until 2008 there was a lottery to allocate hunting permits for bison.

The lottery system was removed and the allowable harvest doubled, among other strategies to encourage hunters.

There are two ways of bringing the numbers down: either you increase mortality or you decrease the birth rate, Jung said.

Although hunters managed to harvest an average of 142 bison annually over the past six years, it’s still not enough.

Hunters are now encouraged to harvest more cows than bulls.

“About 60 per cent of the harvest, on average, is bulls,” he said.

“We want to try and even it out to 50-50. We’ve been trying to do that for several years.

“We always had a hunch that a skewed harvest would be a problem for us. The latest projections hammered that home for us.”

It’s not very easy to distinguish between a cow and a bull, however. That is, unless you’re a biologist who studies the species on a regular basis.

“It’s easier when we’re talking about older animals,” he said.

“But when it comes to bison aged two, three or four years old – and there are a lot of those – it’s a lot harder.”

Environment Yukon uses an unorthodox method of estimating herd sizes.

For the third time, they’ve used high-powered paintball guns to tag bison.

The conservation officers mark as many bison as they can – they strive to mark about 10 per cent of the population – and go back a few days later to count the number of marked versus unmarked.

They try to hit the bison at least 10 to 12 times each so they’re properly tagged.

It’s a process they repeat three times over the summer.

This summer, 105 bison were paintballed.

“Using some mathematics we’re able to count how many we missed and come up with an estimate,” Jung said.

“When we initially came across the idea of paintballing bison it seemed a bit strange to me. They were already doing it in other jurisdictions with other species, such as caribou and elk.

“People may think we’re just out there having fun, but this makes a lot more sense from a biological point of view.”

This approach is less invasive than using radio collars or ear tags, Jung said.

The bison are only slightly bothered for a period of roughly 10 to 30 seconds, and the paint wears off after two weeks.

Since their re-introduction to the territory in 1988, bison have also been found in some unexpected places.

This summer, they were spotted near the Donjek River in Kluane National Park.

“Sometimes they wander into new areas. We didn’t expect to see them there,” Jung said.

“It they visit an area often enough they’ll eventually stay there. We’re studying what effect they’re having on other species.”

It is thought that the wood bison were locally extinct in the Yukon by the early 20th century.

The territory became involved in a national plan to restore bison populations in 1980, and between 1988 and 1992 it released 170 animals in the Aishihik region.

The management plan will be reviewed in 2017.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

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

Just Posted

In a Feb. 17 statement, the City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology used for emergency response. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Three words could make all the difference in an emergency

City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology

Jesse Whelen, Blood Ties Four Directions harm reduction councillor, demonstrates how the organization tests for fentanyl in drugs in Whitehorse on May 12, 2020. The Yukon Coroner’s Service has confirmed three drug overdose deaths and one probable overdose death since mid-January. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three overdose deaths caused by “varying levels of cocaine and fentanyl,” coroner says

Heather Jones says overdoses continue to take lives at an “alarming rate”

Wyatt's World for Feb. 24, 2021.

Wyatt’s World for Feb. 24, 2021.

Approximately 30 Yukoners protest for justice outside the Whitehorse courthouse on Feb. 22, while a preliminary assault hearing takes place inside. The Whitehorse rally took place after the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, based in Watson Lake, put out a call to action over the weekend. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Courthouse rally denounces violence against Indigenous women

The Whitehorse rally took place after the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society put out a call to action

The now empty lot at 410 Cook Street in Whitehorse on January 19. As developers move forward with plans for a housing development that would feature 16 micro-units, they are asking city council for a zoning change that would reduce the number of required parking spaces. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Parking problems predicted

Zoning amendment would create more on-street parking issues, residents say

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18.	(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

The Yukon government and the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce have signed a letter of understanding under the territory’s new procurement policy. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
First Nation business registry planned under new procurement system

Letter of understanding signals plans to develop registry, boost procurement opportunities

US Consul General Brent Hardt during a wreath-laying ceremony at Peace Arch State Park in September 2020. Hardt said the two federal governments have been working closely on the issue of appropriate border measures during the pandemic. (John Kageorge photo)
New U.S. consul general says countries working closely on COVID-19 border

“I mean, the goal, obviously, is for both countries to get ahead of this pandemic.”

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Start of spring sitting announced

The Yukon legislature is set to resume for the spring sitting on… Continue reading

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

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

History Hunter: Kwanlin Dün — a book of history, hardship and hope

Dǎ Kwǎndur Ghày Ghàkwadîndur: Our Story in Our Words is published by… Continue reading

Most Read