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Emails reveal Yukon government officials’ surprise over Ross River Dena Council’s hunting permits

Records were obtained by the News via an access to information request
A digital copy of the hunting notice that originally ran on June 15 in the Yukon News. (Yukon News file)

High-level Yukon government officials appear to have been caught off-guard by Ross River Dena Council’s announcement in June to issue and enforce its own hunting permits, internal emails and documents show.

And briefing notes prepared for the then-deputy environment minister suggest that the Yukon government took a much harder stance on the issue behind closed doors than in public.

Records obtained by the News via an access to information request show a series of emails sent between government officials on June 18, a Monday, talking about how to respond to a notice Ross River Dena Council (RRDC) placed in the Yukon News three days before.

In its notice of June 15 — a Friday — the RRDC announced that, for the upcoming hunting season, it would require all non-Kaska hunters wishing to hunt in the Ross River area to obtain special permits from the council. The notice also said that RRDC would be ending hunting season within its traditional territory earlier than usual, and that it was imposing a moratorium on hunting in 11 areas.

In the notice, the RRDC said it was taking the measures to address “deep concerns” about moose and caribou populations within its traditional territory.

“Can we meet ASAP to discuss the response to the ad in the newspaper from RRDC that notifies hunters to require a RRDC permit and that poplular (sic) areas are closed to hunting, including moose hunting Sept 15th?” Allan Koprowsky, assistant deputy minister of environmental sustainability, wrote in an email sent just before 9 a.m. June 18 to three other officials — Ruby Porter, senior negotiator with the executive council office’s implementation and reconciliation branch, Brian Macdonald, assistant deputy minister of Aboriginal relations, and Mark Radke, a government lawyer specializing in Aboriginal law.

In another email chain the same day, Koprowsky tells Jennifer Meurer, director of policy planning and Aboriginal relations within Environment Yukon, that he “just got the material on late Friday.”

Koprowsky’s email was in response to a message from Meurer, time stamped 1:53 p.m. June 18, that she “wasn’t aware of this until now.”

Environment Yukon spokesperson Roxanne Stasyszyn had previously told the News that the RRDC sent a letter to the department June 14 informing it about the notice.

The records released in response to the News’s access to information request, which asked for all communications to, from and between government employees related to the RRDC’s hunting permit starting June 14, did not include the letter nor any communications that allude to the letter.

Environment Yukon spokesperson Erin Loxam said Sept. 6 that the letter was sent to the environment minister “but (she) can’t confirm any other recipients.”

As for what was done immediately after the minister received the letter June 14, in a follow-up email, spokesperson Sophie Best said, “To our knowledge, other than normal administrative actions to relay information, we are not aware of any other actions within the department (on the 14th.)”

The records do appear to show that a meeting was scheduled to take place between Yukon government officials and the RRDC July 4 to 6.

In an email dated July 2, Christine Cleghorn, Environment Yukon’s director of fish and wildlife, sent a “draft of opening remarks” to then-deputy environment minister Joe MacGillivray. The document, titled “Key messages Joe,” contains 11 bullets, many of them appearing to show some hints of surprise, frustration and push-back to the RRDC’s notice.

“In recent memory we were in court, and from that experience we were directed to continue to consult with you in the management of wildlife habitat and resources,” one bullet reads. “For the last several years we would either try to meet with you and not receive a response, or when we did meet we would be unable to move past your desire to talk about rights and title into issues that I can control and direct. I was very pleased in January when it seemed that we were finally going to begin to talk about how we can work together… And now this ad in the paper, when I thought we were talking productively.”

“Today I need to be clear that I cannot endorse RRDC issuance of permits,” the document continues. “You also need to know that the Wildlife Act states that No person shall interfere intentionally with the hunting or trapping of any wildlife by a person who is authorized to hunt or trap …That is the law.”

“The Wildlife Act and its regulations, and the policies that support it, have evolved over time because Yukoners of all backgrounds agreed that they want a transparent management process that provides adequate notice and rationale for changes,” the document continues.

“…The actions described in the ad don’t meet the test for us of transparency and timeliness. We need to sort out a new path forward.”

“I am here to solve two problems – to learn why we find ourselves in the position of responding to this ad, and secondly to understand if this is the moment where two governments can come together and sort out our relationship towards working together in the future,” the document concludes.

Loxam confirmed to the News Sept. 6 that a meeting did take place between MacGillivray and RRDC from July 4 to 5.

Best said the department “can’t confirm how these speaking notes were used in the meeting, and whether they were said or not.”

Many people who were at the meeting are no longer with the department, Best said.

The RRDC did not respond to a request for comment for this story, and has not responded to any of the News’s requests for comment about its hunting permits since June.

Contact Jackie Hong at