An opportunity to harvest elk may soon be in the cards for local hunters.
Last week the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board, along with the department of Environment, released a draft management strategy for elk.
It outlined five management goals:
The first is to ensure healthy populations of free-ranging elk in the Yukon.
The board plans to monitor population sizes, watch for disease and enhance the genetic diversity of the species.
The second is to take care of elk habitats and range.
The third goal is to understand the potential impact of elk on the land by studying large predators within the elks’ range as well as their competition for food.
The fourth is to provide for greater human use and appreciation of elk.
The board hopes to offer limited hunting opportunities for Yukon residents, and also promote elk viewing as a tourism product.
The fifth goal is to address human concerns regarding elk.
To deal with recent problems of elk entering farmers’ fields, a working group has been created to deal with these issues and suggest possible solutions.
Vehicle collisions with elk are also a large problem, especially this time of year when days get shorter and the elk start to aggregate.
“It’s not a done deal; we’re looking for input and feedback,” said fish and wildlife planner Karen Clyde.
Elk occur naturally in small numbers in southeastern Yukon along the BC-Yukon border.
The Yukon Fish and Game Association approached government in the late 1940s to see whether more elk could be introduced to the area.
The intent was to provide elk for new hunting opportunities, which would ease pressure on other big game in the area.
Nineteen animals were brought up in 1951. Thirty more followed in 1954. They were all released in the Braeburn area.
Later, when elk numbers failed to rise, 119 more animals were released.
“There’s always been questions around why the elk hadn’t expanded, hadn’t colonized,” said Rob Florkiewicz, a biologist studying the herds.
The common theory is bad genetics, but nutrition could also be a factor, he added.
Now the elk have separated into two herds — one in the Takhini Valley and the other around Braeburn.
Current estimates show there are 160 to 200 animals in the Takhini herd and 100 in Braeburn.
“We don’t really have a good solid idea of the numbers of animals,” said senior wildlife biologist Thomas Jung.
Yukon’s Environment department plans to use some of its supplemental funding to nail down the number of animals in each herd.
The count would happen sometime this fall.
The elk-management plan is the first to be created in 10 years.
A draft is available for review at www.yfwmb.yk.ca.
The board plans to host public meetings in Haines Junction, Carmacks and Whitehorse to gauge public feedback.
Yukon residents have until October 15 to submit written comments on the strategy.
Wood bison numbers
highest in years
While biologists are unsure about the state of the territory’s elk herds, a recent count shows Yukon’s wood bison are flourishing.
In late July a four-person crew searched for the bison by helicopter.
And last week, Environment released an estimate of 1,089 animals in the Aishihik wood bison herd.
This is the highest number in years and biologists are confident the herd is still growing.
Not bad for a species that nearly became extinct.
“We need to ensure that we have enough animals, so that the herd is viable,” said Jung.
To be considered viable, there has to be a population of at least 400 animals.
“At the same time, they are a species that has been brought back to the land here, and there are some concerns about the impacts, or our lack of knowledge of the impacts that this large animal may have on the landscape,” he added.
As the largest land animals in North America, wood bison can have a major impact on the land.