Nobody knows how many deer there are in the territory.
Nevertheless, the Yukon will issue 10 hunting permits for deer this year. The lucky hunters can shoot either mule or white-tailed deer.
“In theory, there are 500 to 800 animals and they’ve been expanding their range,” said Environment’s fish and wildlife branch director Harvey Jessup on Thursday.
But that’s just a guess, said Liberal MLA Eric Fairclough.
“The department hasn’t done a count. So, it kind of took me by surprise that they’re suddenly issuing permits.”
“Although we don’t know exactly how many deer we have in the territory, we do believe there are sufficient numbers so that a very limited hunt is not threatening,” said Jessup.
Since 1960, deer have been listed as specially protected wildlife under the Yukon Act.
This federal legislation afforded deer protection from First Nations subsistence harvesting, as well as licensed hunting in the territory.
Then, as First Nations’ final agreements were ratified, the legislation was repealed, allowing First Nations subsistence harvesting rights for deer.
But the government isn’t monitoring how many deer First Nations are harvesting, said Fairclough.
“There’s some First Nations that do harvest counts and others choose not to,” he said.
“So, nobody knows how many deer the First Nations have taken, but I would think that the number is fairly high now.
“I know First Nations people are taking deer, and they’re small animals, so they’re not just going to take one.
“And (the government) is just guessing the number is high enough for them to handle permits, which I think is pretty poor management and doesn’t make sense.”
The First Nations’ groups Fairclough consulted were surprised to learn the government was issuing hunting permits for deer, he said.
Especially because many First Nations chose not to hunt deer until their population had substantially increased.
“And some First Nations people, even last year, didn’t know they had the right to hunt them,” said Fairclough.
“They thought they were protected, like the bison and elk.”
To enable the upcoming hunt, deer had to be taken off the specially protected list, said Jessup.
So, acting on a proposal from the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board changes were made to the Wildlife Act Regulations and deer are now listed as a big game species.
Yukoners overwhelmingly supported this proposal, states a letter from the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, which held public consultations in the territory.
This hunt will also take harvesting pressure off other species in the Yukon, such as moose and caribou, the board’s letter states.
The board was acting upon a proposal submitted by the Yukon Fish and Game Association, which originally proposed the limited license deer hunt.
The government has undertaken this deer hunt, “to reduce the numbers as much as we can,” Environment minister Dennis Fentie said Wednesday.
“The hunt is a measure taken by the Fish and Wildlife Management Board to help reduce the population, considering this is a management tool,” he said.
“I think it’s pretty poor management,” said Fairclough on Wednesday.
“The department hasn’t done a count, like they should, so we’re going by guesstimates and we’re already giving out permits — there’s no real reason for that.
“And (Fentie) said we need to reduce numbers as much as we can, which I find startling, when we don’t really know what the numbers are.”
Deer are too small to be counted from the air, and it’s too costly to count them from the ground, said Fairclough.
The Fish and Wildlife Management Board has acknowledged increased deer sightings, and an increase in their range and distribution, said Jessup.
And using this information, the board estimated the Yukon’s deer population.
When deer were first addressed 50 years ago they were localized around the Whitehorse/Tagish area, said Jessup.
But now they range from the BC/Yukon border right through to Dawson City, he said.
Fentie credits climate change for this northward migration.
But Northern Climate Exchange co-ordinator John Streicker believes it’s a bit more complicated.
Climate change is definitely affecting the deer’s range and population growth in the territory, he said.
But transportation corridors, which act as conduits for animals, also change migration patterns.
“I haven’t seen the numbers (for deer in the territory) yet,” said Streicker.
“But I’ve put in a request to the department.”
The deer-hunting season will run from August 1st through November 30th. It’s $10 to enter the permit lottery and another $50 for those who win the draw. The 10 permits will be for adult male deer. Each allows the holder to bag one animal.
And all licensed hunters will be required to give biological samples to the Environment department, if their hunt is successful.
“Typically our permits have a 50 per cent, or less, success rate for all species that are on permit,” said Jessup.
“So, it’s a very limited opportunity.”
And the first two years of the hunt will be a trial period, to see how harvesting affects the deer population, he said.