Government trails Vuntut Gwitchin measures

The Yukon government and the Porcupine Caribou Management Board have no plans to follow the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation’s lead in imposing a…

The Yukon government and the Porcupine Caribou Management Board have no plans to follow the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation’s lead in imposing a partial hunting ban on the caribou herd.

But, like the First Nation, the board is concerned about the herd’s dwindling numbers and it plans to complete a harvest-management strategy by the end of 2007, said wildlife management spokesman Doug Larsen.

New numbers from Alaska have pegged the adult caribou population as low as 78,000 animals.

That prompted chief Joe Linklater to ban non-resident hunting on Vuntut Gwitchin settlement lands.

Linklater also restricted the subsistence harvest to bulls.

Two sections of settlement lands along the Dempster Highway are affected by the ban.

The rest of the highway remains protected by a 500-metre no-hunt corridor imposed by territorial law.

Linklater’s decision was made in consultation with the Environment department and the caribou management board in Old Crow about two weeks ago, said Larsen.

A second one-week closure on hunting the herd’s migratory vanguard and continuation of the 500-metre protective corridor along the Dempster were proposed, he said Friday.

“(The First Nation) was very supportive of new proposed regulations and the 500-metre corridor.

“If there was any difference in the conversation, it was when Linklater said that we’re not doing enough, soon enough. And we completely agree.”

The Vuntut Gwitchin have sole responsibility for their category A lands, which means the First Nation can create policy faster than the Yukon government, which must consult a broad range of stakeholders, said Larsen.

The caribou were first sighted during their winter migration across the Dempster about two weeks ago, he added, noting the Gwitch’in harvest between 3,000 and 3,500 animals each year.

Every year, the First Nation typically receives about 20 written requests from non-resident hunters, all of which will be denied, Linklater said recently.

But the roughly 300 caribou that the Yukon government typically allows non-aboriginals to harvest each year are still fair game, said Larsen.

The caribou management board and the Yukon government are also working to obtain an accurate census of the herd, which numbered 178,000 animals in 1989.

“Every group and every government should be doing exactly what Joe Linklater is doing, which is erring on the side of conservation wherever they can.”