Outfitters and aviators in cahoots, say resident hunters

Yukon's resident hunters are concerned with the partnership between certain outfitters and aviation companies, which they say borders on collusion.

Yukon’s resident hunters are concerned with the partnership between certain outfitters and aviation companies, which they say borders on collusion.

Gord Zealand, executive director of the Yukon Fish and Game Association, said he’s heard several reports in the past year of aviation companies refusing to fly resident hunters into areas where outfitters are already operating.

Those include but are not limited to areas around Mayo, Ross River and Faro.

Zealand said it’s been getting worse.

“I don’t believe that if you have a carrier licence you can refuse people the way they’re doing it,” he said, “and I’m looking into the legality of it.”

“We started hearing about this last year. We knew it could be an issue and sure enough, it’s hitting in spades this fall.”

Zealand’s understanding is that a commercially licensed operation is required to fly a resident hunter as long as there are no safety or weather hazards.

“I know there are certain outfitters that have said, ‘We don’t want you to fly a person to Lake A, B or C because I’m looking to carry on business in those areas,’” he said.

The operator of one aviation company, who did not want to be named, told the News that this isn’t the case. He says resident hunters should always be able to find someone to fly them out.

But he also said it’s not uncommon for an aviation company to have a lengthy contract with an outfitter. In such a contract, the pilot lives with the outfitters and the plane operates off their dock.

It guarantees the aviation company a minimum number of hours whether they fly or not, which is good from a business standpoint, he said. It also means the outfitter client has rights to the plane at any time.

Zealand said he doesn’t buy that excuse.

“I think it’s just a very convenient statement to be made,” he said.

“They’re not tied up for that period of time.”

Zealand said the companies are willing to fly other people out to the same locations as long as it’s not hunting related, which means they’re not as tied up as they say they are.

Jim Haney, a former president of the fish and game association, said he’s also concerned about reports of areas becoming the exclusive hunting grounds of a few outfitters.

“There are laws against restricting resident hunters’ rights to hunt,” he said.

“This is bordering on that.”

Section 34 of the Yukon Wildlife Act states that “no person shall interfere intentionally with the hunting or trapping of any wildlife by a person who is authorized to hunt or trap the wildlife under this act.”

Haney said there aren’t that many aviation companies that can fly resident hunters out of the more remote communities such as Mayo or Faro.

“Where’s a resident going to go?” he said.

“If he can’t fly out into these wilderness areas, where will he go? The government concentrates everyone into the Whitehorse area and more and more restrictions come up.

“You’re saying you have an exclusive contract – my question is why do you fly canoers, why do you fly miners, or anybody else?”

Another company, Black Sheep Aviation, told the News there was no such thing happening at any of its bases.

The company is based out of Whitehorse but has satellite bases in both Mayo and Watson Lake.

“We do our best to avoid putting two groups of hunters, whether resident or guided, on the same lake, as it is our position that there is enough room for all to enjoy the solitude sought on a fly in trip,” said operations manager Derek Drinnan.

Although the Canadian Transportation Agency is the aeronautical authority in Canada, its authority “does not extend to the way aviation companies operate their services,” a spokesperson for the company said in an e-mail.

The competition bureau handles matters respecting misleading and deceptive acts and practices, but the agency told the News it couldn’t confirm whether there have been complaints and won’t discuss specific cases.

Contact Myles Dolphin at myles@yukon-news.com