Tom Patrick/Yukon News file A pair of elk grazes by the Alaska Highway outside of Haines Junction in 2016. The owners of a ranch in the Takhini valley are suing the Yukon government over what they claim is its negligence in keeping the Takhini elk herd under control.

Ranch owners sue Yukon government over Takhini elk herd

The government was negligent in allowing the herd to grow and spread, the lawsuit alleges

The owners of a ranch in the Takhini valley are suing the Yukon government over what they claim is its negligence in keeping the Takhini elk herd under control.

Wayne and Alison Grove, co-owners of the El Dorado Ranch, filed a statement of claim to the Yukon Supreme Court on June 11, alleging that the impact of wild elk encroaching on their property is threatening their livelihood.

In a brief phone interview June 18, Wayne said he felt like he had no choice but to turn to the court for relief.

“I can’t keep doing this,” he said, referring to dealing with the alleged damage the wild elk are causing.

Environment Yukon spokesperson Heather Avery declined to comment on the statement of claim “as the matter is now before the courts.”

Elk are not native to the Yukon, the lawsuit notes, and were introduced into the Takhini Valley between 1951 and 1994 “to provide hunting opportunities for local hunters.”

The herd originally consisted of less than 60 animals but begin growing in size in the 1990s, with the current population consisting of about 200 elk that have expanded beyond their original range, into a “buffer zone” and, occasionally, beyond.

The El Dorado Ranch, which the Groves purchased in 1996, is in the Takhini elk herd’s buffer zone. According to the lawsuit, wild elk “regularly frequent the Ranch, especially in the winter,” resulting in a host of issues.

The animals are “attracted to, and feed on” crops grown on the ranch’s fields, the lawsuit alleges, meaning the Groves can’t sell it or use it to feed their farmed elk. The wild elk lie down on the ranch’s hay fields in the winter, causing the snow underneath them to melt; the water freezes after the animals gets up and leave, killing the planted grass underneath and allowing wild grass to “invade.” Bull elk have dug rut pits in the ranch’s agricultural fields and wild elk have destroyed fences.

The herd also pose a threat to the Groves’ farmed elk business, the lawsuit alleges, noting the increased risk of parasite and disease transfer should the wild elk come into contact with the farmed population. There’s also an increased potential of farmed elk escaping due to the damaged fences, and the value of an elk calf decreases if a wild elk were to “impregnate any of the domesticated cow elk.”

The Groves “are not able to replace any farmed elk who are lost or killed, due to a moratorium on importing elk into the Yukon,” the lawsuit adds, also noting that bull elk are “aggressive” and pose “a risk of damage to the plaintiffs’ persons and property.”

The statement of claim accuses the Yukon government of failing to “implement operational measures to effectively reduce the conflicts between elk and agriculturalists” despite knowing about the problems and putting forward proposals to address them in three separate management plans.

The 1990 plan, the lawsuit says, recommended capping the size of the herd at 100 animals and limiting its geographical range to a “core area,” while the 2008 plan “recognizes a number of elk impacts on agriculture” and recommends not allowing the size of the herd to increase for five years.

The 2016 plan recognized that the herd had “ranged further from the Core Zone in recent years” and, since 2014, “have occupied farm fields through the winter more frequently than before, and left the area later in the spring than before.” The recommendations, goals and actions in that plan, the lawsuit said, included “encouraging the movement of elk from the Buffer Zone to the Core Zone” and condition wild elk to avoid farms “through hunting and hazing.”

However, the lawsuit alleges, the Yukon government has failed to actually address the issues.

While government issues hunting licences for wild elk, “the low number of licences and the restrictions on the hunt preclude any effective reduction in numbers or behaviour modification of the elk,” the statement of claim says, and “farmers and ranchers continue to bear the burden of elk mitigation strategies.

The government’s compensation scheme also “does not adequately compensate farmers and ranchers for their losses,” the lawsuit continues, and “other than continuing to permit limited hunting, the Government of Yukon has not implemented any of the recommendations from the 2008 or 2016 Elk Management Plans.”

The lawsuit claims that the government was either negligent in allowing the Takhini elk herd to grow and spread, or, alternatively, made “negligent representations” that it would keep the herd under control.

The result, either way, is that the Groves have suffered “loss and damages.”

The case has not yet been tested in court.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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