Takhini rancher deluged by elk

Alan Young’s Takhini Valley ranch is teeming with elk. And he can’t get rid of them. “There are 100 of them standing there eating…

Alan Young’s Takhini Valley ranch is teeming with elk.

And he can’t get rid of them.

“There are 100 of them standing there eating my bales and they’ve grazed off my hay,” said Young.

“Now I have nothing left for my horses, when they come back in the spring.

“They’ve totally cleaned me out.”

The elk have eaten more than $20,000 worth of feed, said Young.

And they’re still there.

“They’re camped right in my yard,” he said.

“They’re sleeping literally 200 feet from my cabin — it’s almost to the point where they’re rubbing up and down against the logs.

“And they’re not going anywhere.”

When he goes outside to sweep the porch, or to start his truck, the elk don’t run.

“They don’t even move,” he said.

With no feed left, Young has been forced to truck hay from Alberta for his horses.

And that’s expensive.

The elk have also destroyed more than $1,500 worth of fencing on his property.

“I deserve some compensation,” he said.

Young has contacted Premier Dennis Fentie, Highways and Public Works Minister Archie Lang, and the department of Environment, but has heard nothing.

“I’m frustrated the government’s not doing anything,” he said.

“They think, ‘Well, he can go buy more hay,’ but that’s not the way I feel about it.”

Young, who winters his 31 horses in Alberta, trucks them north from April through November.

“My horses start eating that hay in April, May, and June, are in the mountains from July to September, and start feeding on the hay again for October and November,” he said.

“So I have to get hay back for those horses by the spring.”

But trucking and paying for new hay is not Young’s biggest concern.

The Yukon rancher fears the elk will continue to feed at his farm, year after year.

And there’s little he can do about it.

There’s no hunting season on the elk, he said.

And even firing shots in the air doesn’t scare them off.

“They love it here,” he said.

Compensation for the elk damage is unlikely, said regional Environment biologist Rob Florkiewicz.

Most of the land in the Takhini Valley has only been disposed of in the last five to 10 years, and when it was sold, it was pretty clear there was wildlife in the area, possibly elk, he said.

“And there is no policy for compensation. I believe (Young) knew that.”

Wildlife feed on crops across the territory, said Florkiewicz.

And the ranchers are planting oats, which are very attractive.

“In the Tagish area, moose get into hay bales, and wherever that occurs it’s really up to the land-owner to protect their investment.”

Young left the majority of his hay in the fields, swath cut, which allows his horses to feed as they roam.

This was likely a major attractant for the elk, said Florkiewicz.

“I’m assuming that next year he would probably choose to remove the hay crop from the fields,” he added.

But the elk also got into Young’s baled hay.

 “So he may have to build a hay barn with walls or boards to keep those animals out,” said Florkiewicz.

“I guess there’s a discussion to be had about how much he needs to do to protect his investment.”

Even if Young was able to shoot an elk, it would probably not deter the herd, said Florkiewicz.

“Nutritionally, what’s growing on a farmer’s field right now is far superior to what’s available in terms of dried grass in the backcountry.

“And, naturally, they’re attracted to not just the quality but also the abundance, which is part of what held them along the road shoulders for awhile too.”

The elk used to spend more time on the far side of the Takhini River, but LaPrairie Ranch has been expanding its game fencing, to pasture its bison.

The fencing excludes the elk and may have contributed to their movement across the river, said Florkiewicz.

The Yukon Fish and Game Association, in co-operation with the territorial government, introduced elk to the territory in ‘51 and ‘54, said Florkiewicz.

The idea was to have more species available for harvest.

At that time, 49 elk were brought in from Elk Island, Alberta, and released behind Braeburn.

They didn’t show up in the Takhini Valley area until 1961, said Florkiewicz.

For decades, elk numbers didn’t increase, although Environment has no elk-monitoring program in place to keep track, he said.

In the early ‘90s, the government introduced another 99 elk.

And in the last six years, the herd has really taken off, said Florkiewicz.

“We’re not sure why,” he added.

“We’re getting good calf numbers and good calf survival through the winter, but there’s no real clear answer because we haven’t had an ongoing monitoring program on them — it’s just by observation, and occasional flights in the winter to try and get a total count.”

This year Environment received some funding to begin a small radio-collaring program, to help establish elk movements and distribution.

“There are a fair number of animals roaming around,” said Florkiewicz, who estimates there are about two hundred elk in the Takhini Valley.

“And when they start getting into farmers’ fields, there’s certainly a discussion to be had about whether we’ve reached a suitable limit for that area, and then how we would begin managing them.”

Part of this discussion is about what harvest levels would be appropriate, or if a harvest should even begin, said Florkiewicz.

Permitting hunting in the Takhini Valley, with its huge farm properties and private residences, is questionable, he added.

“Do you want to have hunting in that area when you have this amazing wildlife-viewing opportunity to see, quite close, these magnificent bull elk gathering their harems and fighting the other bulls?

“The Alaska Highway is a major tourist route, so there are those things we need to balance, along with public safety.

“That’s the flip side.”

The elk frequently feed on grasses beside the highway, and this winter three have been hit.

Outside Takhini Valley, elk have been spotted near Lake Laberge; there are still roughly 100 near Braeburn and about 20 in the Hutshi Valley.