Native hunters in Faro are shooting the town’s rare Fannin sheep.
Charlie Peeling, a Faro resident, worries the practice may hurt the small herd of 80 to 100 animals and, in turn, damage the town’s tourism trade, which is largely built around luring visitors to see the rare sheep.
Natives are shooting sheep on an “ongoing basis,” said conservation officer TJ Grantham.
The hunt is a contentious issue, but “they weren’t breaking any rules,” he said.
Local Kaska are entitled to hunt sheep for subsistence purposes.
No one else is allowed to shoot the sheep. The herd, found just north and east of town, has been closely monitored since the early 1980s.
Fannin sheep appear unique: their faces and neck are white, while their bodies are dark brown. They are believed to be a cross of Dall and Stone sheep.
Faro may be the only place in the world where Fannin sheep may be seen from the road.
Several viewing platforms have been built for visitors who want to see the rare sheep.
Hunting occurs within plain sight of the platforms, said Peeling.
Kaska have hunted the sheep for centuries, said Chief Gordon Peter.
There’s no reason for this practice to change now, he added.
Most hunting occurs in the autumn, when most visitors have left, he said.
The hunt is usually limited to a few elders taking several sheep a year, he said.
The hunters he encounters are younger, and show little respect for animals, he said.
Two weeks ago, he watched hunters shoot two ewes and an immature ram, he said.
And hunting the herd near the road is not sporting, said Peeling, adding the animals have grown accustomed to people and won’t run away.
Other residents won’t complain for fear of being politically incorrect, he said.
“Well, I’m tired of it. Something needs to be said.”
Kaska have not received complaints about sheep-hunting practices, said Gordon.
And, even if he wanted to, he would be unable to limit his people’s hunting rights, he said.
“We really can’t tell them what they can do and what they can’t do,” said Gordon.
Kaska have bigger worries, he said.
Among them are hunters from the Northwest Territories who cross the border to hunt in Kaska territory.
These hunters kill animals indiscriminately and waste meat, he said.
And, because Kaska have not signed a final agreement yet, there is little he can do.
A final agreement would require other First Nation hunters to seek permission from Kaska to hunt on their territory.
However, other First Nations with final agreements have found visiting native hunters don’t always seek permission.
And First Nations are often ill-equipped to enforce such rules.