Too many hunters, too few moose

Art Johns, 75, doesn’t need to be told the Southern Lakes moose population is in crappy shape. The Carcross elder has watched the decline with…

Art Johns, 75, doesn’t need to be told the Southern Lakes moose population is in crappy shape.

The Carcross elder has watched the decline with his own eyes.

That’s why he is here, overlooking the massive Wheaton River Valley from his vantage point high up on the switchback of a mining road.

He grips a pair of binoculars. He’s looking for poachers.

There’s no sign of any today. Nor is there much evidence of animals, either. The valley appears bereft of life, other than a lone raven that circles overhead.

“We don’t even have rabbits as much. The gophers are gone. You don’t even see grouse anymore,” he says.

In the early 1980s, Johns flew in a plane over the valley. Everywhere he looked he saw black dots. They were moose.

But in less than 20 years, the once-thriving moose population here has been cut in half. Mining roads that scratch across the valley have opened the area up to easy access by truck and ATV.

In 1987, the herd’s number was estimated at 1,800. In 2002, the herd’s size was believed to be 800.

Who shot the moose?

A poster produced with Yukon government money suggests high numbers of moose had been shot by First Nation hunters.

But in Johns’ mind, the biggest culprits are poachers from Whitehorse.

Wheaton River Valley is “at the doorstep” of the territory’s capital, just a 45-minute drive away.

How big is the poaching problem?

“Big, big, big.”

Not long ago, he saw a truck with three moose heads dangling out the trailer.

Hunters come here from all over. Johns has seen licence plates from the Northwest Territories, Alaska and BC. He’s even met hunters from Old Crow, visiting Whitehorse for a meeting.

Many don’t understand they need permission from the Tagish/Carcross First Nation to hunt here.

Johns is a member of the First Nation’s lands-use team. He rides in his Toyota RAV4 with another elder, Ted Hall, 73.

Nearby, two younger members of the team roar up the mountain-side on all-terrain vehicles.

Together, they amount to the long arm of the law in these parts, where Johns and fellow team members have not seen a conservation officer for years.

The patrols began in September to deter illegal hunting. They’re out here every day.

It’s not an easy job. Johns and fellow wildlife monitors have no enforcement powers.

They can’t issue fines. Nor can they order anyone to produce the forms they’re supposed to have.

Proposed changes to Yukon’s Wildlife Act would give Johns and other team members the power to enforce rules set by their First Nation. But this isn’t expected to happen for another two years.

In the meantime, they are armed only with persuasion.

They often hear several suspicious explanations from hunters who roam the valley without the proper papers.

An armed guy on an ATV will say he’s just out for a ride.

Or a hunter will produce a small game licence, although he’s toting a rifle that’s of a calibre appropriate for shooting big game, rather than grouse.

This raises eyebrows. But all the lands team can do is report the suspicious activity to the wildlife branch.

Some people get angry when asked to produce their hunting permit and permission sheet.

“Some people get pretty offended,” says Johns. “We have a hell of a time.”

All hunting is supposed to be reported to the First Nation’s lands office. It doesn’t matter if the hunter is native or not.

But it’s obvious to the lands team such reporting doesn’t always happen. As a result, nobody knows how many moose are being shot.

The Yukon government issues 11 hunting tags for moose each year to licensed hunters in the Southern Lakes region. Only a few of these hunters usually report they are successful.

About seven First Nation beneficiaries have reported moose kills this season, says the lands team. But Johns and his team know there have been more.

But it’s highly unlikely most moose are being shot by First Nation hunters, they say.

As evidence, look no further than the gut piles left on the ground by hunters, says Corey Edzerza, 38, who rides an ATV for the lands team.

No native would leave the guts to waste, he says.

“There’s 1,200 pounds of steak, and the natives go straight for the bum guts,” says Edzerza with a laugh.

It’s also hard to keep secrets in a town of about 300, such as Carcross, says Johns.

When someone gets a moose, everyone knows about it, he says.

Still, Edzerza concedes that “a small minority” of native hunters are “among the worst offenders.”

They argue they have a right to hunt.

And they’re right.

But those rights also need to be protected for “those who aren’t here yet — the generations to come,” he says.

Until the First Nation has the power it needs to enforce hunting rules here, the Yukon government could do more to help out, says Johns.

They could start by putting a hunting checkpoint on Annie Lake Road, the main access road to the area.

Checkpoints exist elsewhere, such as at the bottom of the Dempster Highway at Dawson City.

“If they had that here, it would sure solve most of the problems,” he says.

He’s also encouraging Carcross residents to hunt a bison instead of a moose. There is an abundance of bison, out in Champagne and Aishihik country.

And by taking one, “you could save a moose,” he says.

Johns has performed periodic patrols like this since 1991, when efforts had just started to protect the local Southern Lakes caribou herd.

That herd has since rebounded from about 300 to 1,300.

Now attention has turned to protecting moose.

Johns, for one, is convinced his presence on the hilltop will help deter further illegal hunting.

“We’re just getting started,” he says. “This is just the beginning.”

But on this Thursday, he sees no hunters.

And no moose.

Just Posted

Lorraine Kuhn is seen with one of the many volleyball teams she coached. (Photo submitted by Sport Yukon)
The Yukon Sports Hall of Fame inducts the late Lorraine Kuhn

Lorraine Kuhn became the newest member of the Yukon Sports Hall of Fame for her work in growing volleyball amongst other sports

File Photo
A Yukon judge approved dangerous offender status for a man guilty of a string of assaults in 2020.
Yukon judge sentences dangerous offender to indefinite prison term

Herman Peter Thorn, 51, was given the sentence for 2020 assaults, history of violence

Crystal Schick/ Yukon News A former residential school in the Kaska Dena community of Lower Post will be demolished on June 21. Crystal Schick/ Yukon News
Lower Post residential school demolition postponed

On June 21, the old residential school in Lower Post will be demolished and new ground on a multi-cultural centre will be broken

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley announced 29 new COVID-19 cases on June 19 and community transmission among unvaccinated individuals. (Yukon News file)
Yukon logs record-high 29 new COVID-19 cases

F.H. Collins prom attendees and some Porter Creek Grade 9 students are instructed to self-isolate as community transmission sweeps through unvaccinated populations

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before using it on Nov. 24. The Yukon government is reopening the drive-thru option on June 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Drive-up COVID-19 testing opening June 18 in Whitehorse

The drive-up testing will be open from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. everyday and increase testing capacity by 33 spots

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council at its June 14 meeting

Murray Arsenault sits in the drivers seat of his 1975 Bricklin SV1 in Whitehorse on June 16. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Bringing the 1975 Bricklin north

Murray Arsenault remembers his dad’s Bricklin, while now driving his own

A presumptive COVID case was found at Seabridge Gold’s 3 Aces project. (file photo)
Presumptive COVID-19 case reported at mine in southeast Yukon

A rapid antigen rest found a presumptive COVID case on an incoming individual arriving at the 3Aces project

Jonathan Antoine/Cabin Radio
Flooding in Fort Simpson on May 8.
Fort Simpson asked for military help. Two people showed up.

FORT SIMPSON—Residents of a flooded Northwest Territories village expected a helping hand… Continue reading

A woman was rescued from the Pioneer Ridge Trail in Alaska on June 16. (Photo courtesy/AllTrails)
Alaska hiker chased off trail by bears flags down help

ANCHORAGE (AP)—An Alaska hiker who reported needing help following bear encounters on… Continue reading

Two participants cross the finish line at the City of Whitehorse Kids Triathlon on June 12 with Mayor Dan Curtis on hand to present medals. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
2021 Kids’ Triathlon draws 76 young athletes

Youth ages five to 14 swim, run and bike their way to finish line

NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq rises in the House of Commons, in Ottawa on May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Unacceptable’ that Inuk MP felt unsafe in House of Commons, Miller says

OTTAWA—It’s a “sad reflection” on Canada that an Inuk MP feels she’s… Continue reading

Lily Witten performs her Canadian Nationals beam routine on June 14. John Tonin/Yukon News
Three Yukon gymnasts break 20-year Nationals absence

Bianca Berko-Malvasio, Maude Molgat and Lily Witten competed at the Canadian Nationals – the first time in 20 years the Yukon’s been represented at the meet

Most Read