Pilot Mountain hunt worries sheep guru

Hunters will be able to shoot up to six Dall sheep from Pilot Mountain this season.

Hunters will be able to shoot up to six Dall sheep from Pilot Mountain this season.

The hunt goes against the wishes of the Laberge Renewable Resources Council, which wants to see a two-year ban on hunting in the area, 50 kilometres north of Whitehorse.

The sheep population has grown in recent years to about 175. But only about 30 per cent of these sheep are rams.

The council fears overhunting has thinned out ram numbers, and that continued hunting may lead to a future population decline unless something is done.

And it’s not alone.

The Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board backed the idea of a two-year ban, but its formal recommendation was rejected by Environment Minister Elaine Taylor.

Making the dispute all the more unusual, Don Hutton, a biologist and outgoing chair of the management board, has openly criticized the government for rejecting the proposal. Hutton, a former president of the Yukon Party, is not one to criticize the government without reason.

The ban proposal is not being made on a whim.

Backing the council and board’s recommendation is Manfred Hoefs, a retired wildlife biologist who has studied Yukon’s Dall sheep for 40 years, beginning when he visited the territory as a UBC graduate student in 1969.

“Definitely, heavy hunting was one of the factors” for the current sex imbalance, said Hoefs.

The Environment Department disagrees. It sees fluctuating annual lamb crops as the biggest determining factor of how many rams occupy Pilot Mountain.

And “the pattern is better and better lamb crops,” said Rob Florkiewicz, manager of species programs.

It usually takes a ram eight years to grow its horns to full-curl, although rams on Pilot Mountain may mature as early as six years. It’s one reason why sheep on Pilot Mountain have been favoured by hunters.

The years 2000 and 2001 yielded particularly poor lamb crops on Pilot Mountain, with estimates of fewer than 20 lambs being born during those years. But they are followed by surging lamb numbers for the next five years, with more than 40 lambs born in 2006.

But Hoefs doubts demographics will solve the sex imbalance quickly.

And he fears that, as older rams are picked off by hunters, the sheep will lose knowledge passed down from generation to generation about where to find food in the winter and the best places to lamb.

“They teach each other what to do,” he said.

A growing proportion of rams shot in recent years, while full-curl, are younger than eight years old. This suggests to Hoefs that fewer old rams remain.

But the four rams shot by licensed hunters in 2008 show a wide spread in ages, counters Florkiewicz. They were six, eight, nine and 13 years old.

“This 13-year-old lived to tell the tale,” he said.

The territory’s sheep guidelines suggest there be 40 rams for every 100 sheep. Rams only make up 30 per cent of Pilot Mountain’s population.

It appears the Environment Department is bending its own rules, said Hoefs.

Indeed, the department is reviewing its sheep guidelines. But there isn’t anything nefarious about that, said Florkiewicz.

Instead, “science is catching up,” he said.

Rams only make up 33 per cent of Pilot Mountain’s population, according to historic averages compiled from 12 surveys conducted over 30 years.

Until now, there has been an open season on hunting Pilot Mountain sheep.

Six hunting permits will be released this season. The number is based on the rationale that, on average, sheep hunters enjoy a 30 to 50 per cent success rate. The department expects three sheep to be taken.

Hoefs would be surprised if any fewer than six sheep are bagged. The sheep on Pilot Mountain are isolated and now within easy reach of hunters.

It was once necessary to make a week-long excursion by horse to reach the sheep. But, thanks to all-terrain vehicles, hunters may now make an afternoon trip from Whitehorse up the mountain and back.

“I’d almost bet anyone who gets a permit will get a sheep,” said Hoefs.

This may happen, concedes Florkiewicz.

“That’s a risk,” he said. If all six sheep are taken, “we’d have to relook at it,” he said.

Contact John Thompson at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukon RCMP are making an appeal for information in the case of Mary Ann Ollie, who was murdered in Ross River last year and whose case remains unsolved. (Black Press file)
Yukon youth being extorted online

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted on… Continue reading

Fines for contravening the fire ban start at $1,150 and could go as high as $100,000. File photo
Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. (Black Press file)
Yukon campgrounds to open early

Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. The early opening… Continue reading

Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce executive director Susan Guatto and program manager Andrei Samson outside the chamber office in downtown Whitehorse Feb. 23. (Stephanie Waddell, Yukon News)
When business models shift

Whitehorse chamber offers digital marketing workshop

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The aesthetics and economics of highway strips

One of the many cultural experiences you enjoy while driving from Whitehorse… Continue reading

Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone.
Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone. (Submitted)
Yukon kids express gratitude for nature, pets and friends in art campaign

More than 50 children submitted artwork featuring things they are grateful for

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read