Hunters critical of limited elk hunt

When the government announced the new elk hunt last week, it left some hunters frustrated. There will be 40 permits issued for this year's hunt, and that's not enough, said Peter Percival.

When the government announced the new elk hunt last week, it left some hunters frustrated.

There will be 40 permits issued for this year’s hunt, and that’s not enough, said Peter Percival.

“It’s a stop-gap measure before we figure out what we really have to do to get rid of the elk,” said the local hunter, who’s critical of the elk herds that were artificially introduced to the territory.

Percival is concerned the elk will spread ticks to other Yukon game, particularly in the Southern Lakes region where declining moose and caribou populations are an issue.

“I’d hate to have the (government) find this out too late, when ticks have gotten onto bison, moose, caribou and sheep, all ungulates that have enough hair, blood and body weight to support ticks,” he said.

In October, Percival was in the news for returning his moose-hunting permit because of the declining moose population in the Southern Lakes area.

It was a quiet protest to draw attention to the lack of conservation efforts happening in that region.

If he is chosen in this year’s draw for the elk hunt, however, he said he definitely won’t be handing back his permit.

He wants to see the elk – which have moved outside the borders of the Braeburn and Takhini areas where they were intended to stay – eliminated.

“Elk with ticks are a tremendous risk to the rest of the wildlife population. It’s better to harvest them all; I’d hate to see the ticks get into the caribou population which are a dense, herding animal,” he said.

Grant Lortie, a biologist and hunter, is also worried about the spread of ticks.

“The population of elk is expanding and when they’re more numerous they expand their range and spread ticks farther,” he said.

The territorial government decided to allow elk harvesting, after the herds began spilling out of Braeburn and Takhini, as a result of a winter tick program that had the side-effect of boosting elk calf numbers.

But Percival doesn’t think the hunt is only to reduce elk numbers. It’s also about posturing, he said.

“This hunt is more for appearance than conservation or tick control,” said Percival.

“It’s perhaps because people have been criticizing them (the government) on the amount of money they’ve been spending on elk.”

The winter tick program is “an enormously expensive project,” he said. “Surely we could be spending money in a more productive way.”

The program, which began in 2007 and involves capturing elk and keeping them in pens to prevent the spread of ticks, has been pegged at almost $600,000.

“For the vast majority of time the elk have been living in the Yukon very little has been done with them,” said government biologist Rick Ward.

“The large sums of money most people talk about only came about when we determined we had a winter tick situation.”

Eliminating the elk population as a means of dealing with the tick problem is an unlikely solution, said Ward.

It would also require drawing up an entirely new elk-management plan.

But hunters like Lortie and Percival think it’s the only way to solve the problems associated with the introduction of a nonnative species, like elk, to the Yukon.

Percival is concerned the government is relying on a program that isn’t even guaranteed to eradicate the tick problem.

In an earlier interview with the News, Ward said that fully eliminating the parasites is impossible, “the ticks are here to stay.”

The transmission of ticks to other animals like moose and caribou is a possibility, said Ward. Whether it is a concern here in the territory still waits to be seen; the government expects to release that information in a couple weeks, he said.

Ticks aren’t fatal to elk and have only been known to be fatal to moose and caribou in southern regions where they can have upwards of 30,000 ticks at one time, said Yukon regional biologist Rob Florkiewicz.

“It’s not an undue hardship for a healthy animal,” said Florkiewicz who explains ticks are ectoparasites that cause irritation and hair loss.

So why is the government spending money on a tick program that’s not harmful to elk or other herd animals in the territory?

“It’s hard to know why hunters are concerned over ticks. In some cases it’s just a fear of the unknown,” he said.

“They hear spectacular cases of ‘ghost moose,’ and people respond to that sort of thing.”

It’s not just ticks that worry Percival and Lortie, it’s also the number of elk that will be reserved for First Nation groups in this year’s hunt.

No numbers have been formally agreed upon, but 20 per cent has been floated around since First Nations hold claim to 20 per cent of the land that falls within this year’s elk-hunting zone.

“They haven’t finalized an agreement with the First Nations, which is quite troubling,” said Percival. “Whatever comes forward will be precedent setting.”

Lortie is also concerned. “I’ve heard repeatedly that natives have a share in the elk harvest but nobody knows what it is,” he said.

“It’s a public resource and people should know what the number is.”

But Florkiewicz said those details are still being hammered out.

“The First Nation groups had a number of issues they wanted to talk about,” he said. Florkiewicz doesn’t know when those negotiations are expected to wrap up.

The government is relying upon a similar process it used to allocate permits for the bison hunt, another animal artificially introduced to the Yukon and treated differently under First Nation land claim agreements, he said.

Bison and elk are the only animals that are specifically excluded from the subsistence harvest First Nations are entitled to.

It’s hard to say at this point whether the First Nations will be entitled to 20 per cent of the hunt, Florkiewicz said.

“We’ll only know that when negotiations are complete.”

The application deadline for elk permits is August 14 and the season begins on September 1.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com

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