Taylor rejects plan to protect sheep

Environment Minister Elaine Taylor has rejected measures to protect sheep on Pilot Mountain.

Environment Minister Elaine Taylor has rejected measures to protect sheep on Pilot Mountain.

The sheep population, found about 50 kilometres north of Whitehorse, has grown in recent years to about 170, but there is good reason to worry about its future survival.

The number of rams has dramatically declined to a point where they only make up 27 per cent of the sheep population, according to a survey conducted in July of 2007.

That’s well below the 40 per cent believed to be necessary for the population to remain stable.

Trophy hunters are being blamed for the decline.

Access to the area has greatly increased in the past two decades, thanks to the growing popularity of all-terrain vehicles.

The vehicles have also resulted in a growing network of tracks that have chewed up the natural landscape, to the consternation of bird-watchers, hikers and other nature lovers.

To address these concerns, the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board recommended late last year that Taylor introduce a two-year ban on sheep hunting and to restrict ATVs from alpine areas of Pilot Mountain.

Taylor said no.

“There was overwhelming public support. I guess you’ve got to wonder: what the hell do we do, then? It’s taken a lot of money, a lot of effort, a lot of time. It’s frustrating,” said Don Hutton, the outgoing chair of the board.

The Laberge Renewable Resources Council first proposed the changes, based in part on a 2007 study by Manfred Hoefs, who first began working for the territory as a game biologist in the late 1970s.

“He’s studied sheep longer than half the people have been alive up here,” said Hutton.

“Why they went the way they did, I don’t know.”

Taylor has agreed to restrict hunting in the Miners Range by way of a permitted hunt. It’s unclear how many permits will be issued.

It’s also unclear why she rejected the proposed ban.

But the department has suggested the slump in ram numbers may be caused by natural population fluctuations, rather than overhunting.

In correspondence between the wildlife board and department, Taylor simply wrote “the department stands by the validity of its data including the interpretation and consistency of the management parameters.”

The department was unable to produce the data used as the basis for its decision before Yukon News deadline.

The department doesn’t like the idea of simply restricting ATV access for hunters, because all recreational ATV riders are causing the damage.

But, rather than commit to working on a restriction against all ATV use in alpine areas, the department has only committed to monitoring traffic on the mountain. It says it needs to study the problem first.

This puzzles the wildlife board, because damage done to Pilot Mountain by ATVs has already been thoroughly documented over the past decade by the Laberge Renewable Resource Council.

Both proposals are also supported by the Ta’an Kwach’an Council. The wildlife board was created by the Umbrella Final Agreement, which serves as a blueprint for Yukon land claim agreements.

Taylor refused to comment on her rejection of these measures when asked yesterday at a news conference. She said she would speak to the subject later in the day.

She didn’t.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.