Environment Yukon has issued an emergency ban on all hunting of all caribou in areas around the Dempster Highway.
The ban covers nine game management zones surrounding the highway. It runs until July 31, 2014.
This is the first time in decades that the rare Fortymile caribou herd has made an appearance this far into the Yukon from Alaska, Environment Yukon spokesperson Nancy Campbell said.
The ban was put in place because both the small Hart River caribou herd and the Fortymile caribou herd are in the area, but none of the larger Porcupine caribou herd.
When dealing with just the Porcupine and Hart caribou, a ban would not likely be needed if the larger Porcupine herd – about 169,000 animals – was mixing with the Hart in the area, Campbell said.
There is no hunting of the Fortymile herd – about 52,000 animals – in Yukon as part of a recovery plan created by the Alaska and Yukon governments.
This emergency closure applies to all Yukon resident and non-resident hunters.
The Fortymile herd was originally huge. In the 1920s there were stories of animals being seen in Whitehorse and Fairbanks, Campbell said.
According to a report done by the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation, the herd declined from an estimated high of 568,000 animals in 1920 to a low of 5,000 in 1976.
When the herd first moved back across the border from Alaska into the Yukon in 2002 it was “big news,” Campbell said.
Until now, they were mostly found in the Dawson area.
Campbell said it’s not uncommon for caribou to move around. “There’s good eating apparently,” she said of the area around the highway.
The caribou hunting ban applies to GMS 2-16, 2-23, 2-24, 2-25, 2-27, 2-28, 2-29, 2-39, and 2-51, which includes the Dempster Highway from Dempster Corner to the Ogilvie River bridge (km 0 to km 195).
The ban covers all hunters except members of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in and Nacho Nyak Dun First Nations.
Those governments are responsible for deciding on their own if they want to implement bans, Campbell said.
The Porcupine Caribou herd has split into two groups this season.
One group is near Arctic Village in Alaska while the other is spread out from Old Crow to the Miner River area in the Ogilvie Mountains.
If the smaller herds move on or the Porcupine caribou come to the area, the government may consider reversing the ban, Campbell said.
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