A proposed ban on roadside shooting provoked a heated debate in the legislature last Wednesday.
Steve Nordick, the Yukon Party’s MLA for the Klondike, wanted a select committee to tour the territory and ask residents their thoughts on such a ban.
British Columbia and Alberta prohibit shooting from the roadside. Yukon has faced pressure to fall into line since the summer, after a well-publicized incident of a grizzly bear being shot along Atlin Road.
The boar had become well-known to area residents and visitors. It, along with a sow and two cubs, spent two weeks foraging for roots within sight of the road, before it was shot dead one day within close proximity of the road.
No laws were broken, conservation officers concluded. But proponents of tougher hunting rules say such kills are bad for the territory for a number of reasons.
Such shooting cannot be good for Yukon’s tourism image.
Nor is it sporting, in the grizzly’s case, as the bear had grown accustomed to drivers pulling over to take photographs.
And roadside shooting may be inherently dangerous. While the territory forbids shooting guns toward a road, it’s still possible for a bullet angled away from the road to ricochet off a rock and into harm’s way.
But all this is a non-starter for Eric Fairclough, the Liberals’ MLA for Mayo-Tatchun. He argued the ban would unfairly infringe upon First Nation hunting rights, which, he said, were suffering a “death by a thousand cuts.”
“A lot of my constituents are already up in arms about it,” Fairclough said. “Every time we go back home, people talk about it as if it had already happened.”
A ban would hurt elders who depend on catching small game, he said. They often hunt along small, rural roads, and lack the mobility to make their way into the backcountry.
He went on to complain about existing hunting regulations. It’s bad enough that hunters aren’t supposed to fire guns within a half-kilometre of someone’s cabin, “particularly if you don’t know where the cabin is,” said Fairclough.
And he griped that hunters need to keep guns locked-up in cases while driving, which at times results in missed game. “But you know what? They’re dealing with it. They’re trying their best,” said Fairclough.
Rather than introduce more red-tape, the best solution for the territory is to improve its hunter safety education, said Fairclough.
Darius Elias, the Liberal MLA for Vuntut-Gwitchin, said the ban would punish those unable to afford “fancy four-wheelers and stuff to go way back into the backcountry.”
Besides, said Elias and Fairclough, the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board considered whether a ban on roadside shooting was a good idea back in 2002.
After public consultations, it concluded that improved public education campaigns for hunter safety were preferable to a blanket ban on roadside hunting.
Fairclough warned Nordick that if he pursued the ban, he had better be prepared to risk losing the next territorial election, for the ban would be unpopular with many rural Klondike residents, too.
“Think long and hard about what this is going to do,” he said.
In reply, Nordick accused the Liberals of being, in turns, ignorant, cowardly and lazy.
“Once it gets a little tough or a little dicey on issues, they walk away,” said Nordick.
He suggested Fairclough doesn’t know his constituents well enough to speak for them. “I remember being in a meeting in Mayo where it was said, ‘We see you more than our representative,’ so are you sure you know what your constituents think?”
And Nordick held that the Liberals dislike the proposed committee because “they want to create less work for themselves.”
John Edzerza, the Yukon Party’s MLA for McIntyre-Takhini, also weighed in.
“I think there are a lot of First Nations who are actually tired of people shooting animals right on the road and knocking down the quantity and the number of animals that are available today,” said Edzerza.
He described one incident along the South Canol, in which “there was a guy pointing a rifle right in my direction because there was a moose between me and the guy.”
Another time, Edzerza saw hunters shoot sheep on the Atlin Road, he said.
But it’s already illegal to fire guns on the road, so there’s no need for a new law to prevent the scenarios that Edzerza described, noted Steve Cardiff, the NDP MLA for Mount Lorne.
Edzerza questioned how the Liberals could call for the return of a no-shooting corridor along the Dempster Highway, while fighting a broader ban on roadside shooting.
The corridor was dropped by the territory several years ago, for fear of a lawsuit from First Nations.
And Edzerza compared the ban to another law that was controversial, but proved to be a public safety boon: no-smoking legislation.
“People were against a smoke-free bylaw also. I remember that debate many years ago when people were saying, ‘Who the hell has got the right to come and make laws about me smoking?’
“But today, after many years of looking at what has gone on with smoking in bars and public places, they begin to realize the health hazard.”
Edzerza also reminded MLAs that there’s no long tradition for First Nations to hunt with motorized vehicles. When Edzerza grew up in Atlin, “I never used a truck or a four-wheeler to hunt,” he said. “I walked.”
In the end, no decision was made. The government, which won’t hesitate to force through initiatives when it wants to, instead adjourned debate. It’s unclear when the government will bring up the motion next.
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