Gord Zealand, executive director of the Yukon Fish and Game Association, said that while First Nations have unequivocal rights, conservation efforts must go through the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)

Environment Yukon working with Ross River Dena Council to collect hunting stats

The First Nation implemented a hunting permit system to protect wildlife in June

Yukon Environment Minister Pauline Frost said her department is working with the Ross River Dena Council (RRDC) to account for the number of wild game the First Nation is taking, suggesting it hasn’t been collecting complete hunting information.

In early summer, the First Nation instituted a permit system, requiring anyone who isn’t Kaska to obtain one from the First Nation before hunting in the Ross River area. The notice also called for a hunting moratorium in 11 areas. The First Nation said it was concerned about the number of moose and caribou in the region.

The Yukon government would go on to cancel the hunt on the Finlayson caribou herd July 30, two days before the opening of hunting season.

Over the last 20 years, the caribou have declined from roughly 5,600 animals to less than 2,700, Frost said during question period in the legislative assembly on Oct. 4.

Now, the position of the Yukon government is to collect data from the First Nation to quantify the issue on its end, eventually coming out with a management plan.

“We don’t have accurate data (from the First Nation), and that’s what they’re telling us, and that’s exactly what we’re looking for,” Frost told the media. “Absolutely right, there’s one piece missing in that stew.

“We have a relationship with the Ross River Dena Council. We’re giving them a place at the table to participate in a collaborative, co-management regime that takes into consideration the Indigenous knowledge and listening to elders of that area,” Frost continued.

RRDC is one of three First Nations in the Yukon without a self-governing agreement.

RRDC Chief Jack Caesar could not be reached for comment.

The First Nation has previously taken the territorial government to court over what it says is a lack of proper consultation when it comes to issuing hunting permits and tags.

When the Yukon government receives the figure from the RRDC, in the next six months, a management plan will be released, “in collaboration with all of our stakeholder groups,” Frost said.

“They’ve defined a concern and I will work with them. They want a voice in co-management,” she said. “Historically, they’ve not really had a voice.”

Gord Zealand, executive director of the Yukon Fish and Game Association, said the rights of First Nations are unequivocal, but there’s a process to be followed when dealing with conservation that must be routed through the Fish and Wildlife Management Board.

He said that residents and outfitters have harvest data, but said he doesn’t know if the same holds true for the First Nation.

Zealand wants Premier Sandy Silver to help broker a plan because there continues to be a lot of ambiguity about the issue.

Silver told media that he would “absolutely” meet with the association, noting that the government is trying to unite all communities.

“Under the minister’s leadership and guidance there’s been more communication and more dialogue with inter-government relations, with community relations and stakeholders,” he said.

“What we’re doing is uniting these communities and making sure we’re modernizing our approach towards the whole process for permit hunting, but also working with the partners in the community to make sure that First Nations’ obligations of consultation are being done,” Silver said.

Resident harvest is less than one per cent of the Finlayson caribou herd, said Charles Shewen, president of Fish and Game Association, adding that it’s “sustainable.”

“We’re still disappointed that we’ve lost that hunting opportunity. Resident hunters are upset and we’d like to see it back.”

He said it continues to be unclear how those hunting opportunities will be reinstated.

“We don’t have a problem with getting permits, but the certainty of dealing with an unsettled First Nation from Ross River isn’t there.”

With files from Jackie Hong

Contact Julien Gignac at

julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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