As the Yukon government opens up a limited hunt on the Fortymile caribou herd beginning Aug. 1, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in is calling on the territory to first finalize a harvest management plan for the herd.
The First Nation issued a statement July 27 shortly after the Yukon government announced the limited licensed harvest from Aug. 1 to Sept. 9 for Yukon resident hunters.
It will be the second time the territory is providing for a Fortymile caribou hunt in 25 years. The first one happened last winter and follows extensive caribou recovery efforts. In that hunt a total of 14 caribou were harvested with 66 permits issued.
While the government noted in its statement that the herd is now recovered to a population that can allow for a managed harvest, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in has stated it wanted the harvest management plan done first and were hopeful the Yukon government would opt not to move ahead with a summer hunt, but instead look towards late winter.
“This would have given us time to complete the plan and present it to our citizens for approval. We are disappointed the Yukon (government) didn’t accommodate our request in favour of appeasing licensed hunters and the Alaskan government,” deputy chief Simon Nagano said in a statement.
The First Nation went on to point out it had refrained from harvesting the Fortymile caribou population for three decades in order to rebuild the population and though the population has increased subsistence harvesting remains a challenge as the herd migrates between Yukon and Alaska and the First Nation can only hunt on the Yukon side of the border.
“The rising herd numbers proves our sacrifice has paid off,” said Nagano. “However, TH citizens are still not able to meet their subsistence needs. The Fortymile herd needs more time to push into our traditional territory and our citizens need time to refamiliarize themselves with the herd.”
The First Nation encouraged citizens to be part of the subsistence hunt this summer “to reconnect with the herd, and re-establish important harvesting practices.”
Environment Minister Pauline Frost highlighted the First Nation hunt in a statement.
“We extend our best wishes to those Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in citizens and families participating in the first Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in community hunt,” she said. “We are also pleased to be able to offer harvest opportunities for licensed hunters this summer. During COVID-19, hunters must take extra precautions and follow the latest public health recommendations to ensure a safe and responsible hunting season.”
In an email correspondence, Environment Yukon caribou biologist Mike Suitor explained the herd had recovered to 84,000 in the last estimate of July 2017. That number is a sufficient population for a harvest, he said.
“The herd is also large enough that if it doesn’t expand into other nearby summer habitats, it could damage the habitat it currently occupies and subsequently lead to a significant population decline in the herd,” he stated in the email. “Opening harvest now is a responsible management decision that will support long-term conservation of the herd while continuing to work towards our long-term goal of supporting a larger population size and distribution in Yukon.”
The Yukon government, he continued, is committed to finishing the harvest management plan.
“We continue to work with Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in toward the end goal of completing this plan,” he said. “While we are working towards this, it is Yukon Government’s view that licensed hunts are not contingent on a completed plan and are needed to help ensure the health of this herd.”
He noted work was done with a number of partners to design the winter hunt earlier this year and for the summer hunt.
“We will continue to monitor the herd and harvest activities in collaboration with Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and the Dawson District Renewable Resource Council to ensure long term conservation of this herd,” he said.
To be eligible for one of the 160 permits available, hunters are required to have a valid Yukon big game hunting licence and caribou tag. Any hunters who already reached the limit of one woodland caribou this hunting year are not eligible for a permit.
Permits will be available from Department of Environment offices starting July 30. They will be valid for five days and will be issued at intervals with 20 available in each five-day interval.
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