Environment Yukon has cancelled this year’s permit hunt of the Finlayson caribou herd and is encouraging hunters to respect the rules Ross River Dena Council (RRDC) issued in June.
However, it also says that the “laws of general application” will still apply in the Ross River area, and that it will not help RRDC enforce its own rules.
The department made the announcement in a press release July 31, one day before the hunting season began.
It’s the first time the Yukon government has offered clarification on how hunting will work in the Ross River area this season after the RRDC put a full-page notice in the News June 15 about new hunting rules it was putting in place to address “deep concern” over moose and caribou populations.
Among the rules are a requirement for all non-Kaska hunters to obtain a permit from the RRDC before hunting, an early closure of the moose and caribou hunting season and a moratorium on hunting in 11 places.
In a second notice in the News Aug. 1, RRDC said that the permits will take effect Aug. 8, and that it will be issuing 43 moose permits, 25 sheep permits and 15 caribou permits on a “first-come, first-serve basis.” Permits will be available at the RRDC administration office, Tu Łidlini Petroleum and the Ross River Dena General Store.
RRDC Chief Jack Caesar has not responded to multiple requests for comment from the News since June. RRDC Coun. Derrick Redies did not respond to a request for comment July 31.
In an interview July 31, Environment Yukon spokesperson Roxanne Stasyszyn said that the department has had “conservation concerns” about the Finlayson caribou since 1998, when it first introduced a permit hunting system for the herd. The department was “on schedule” to issue the 30 hunting permits for the herd this season, she said, but the RRDC’s message “allowed for (Environment Yukon) to sit down with them and hear that they shared those concerns as well.”
Thirty hunters had been successful in the 2018-19 lottery for Finlayson caribou, but Stasyszyn said that Environment Yukon had told those hunters the permits were “on hold … to allow time for important conversations about harvest in the herd’s range” at the same time it notified them about the lottery results.
The department contacted the hunters July 30 about its decision to ultimately not issue the permits. The affected hunters will be refunded their application fees, will retain their weightings and also receive an additional year’s weighting the next time they apply to the lottery for Finlayson caribou.
Outfitters will be allowed to fulfil their Finlayson caribou quotas this season as Environment Yukon has a policy to provide a full year’s notice before changing those quotas, Stasyszyn said. However, the department has contacted outfitters in the Ross River area to encourage them to comply with the RRDC’s rules, and to let them know that Finlayson caribou quotas may be affected for the 2019-20 season.
Stasyszyn said it was too early to say whether the Finlayson caribou hunting cancellation will remain in place next season, and that conversations with RRDC are “progressing.” Environment Yukon has also been in touch with other First Nations about how the hunting cancellation in the Ross River area may affect hunting on their traditional territory.
“We understand and respect that if one area of hunting closes, hunters will simply have to go somewhere else, so the pressure never disappears, it kind of just moves around, so we have been in touch with Teslin Tlingit Council and Liard First Nation to have conversations with them,” she said.
While Environment Yukon staff will not be enforcing RRDC’s rules, Stasyszyn said the department is encouraging hunters to respect RRDC’s wishes.
“The laws of general application do not require a permit from (RRDC). However, we do acknowledge that First Nations have been hunting in their traditional territories for generations. They have a special connection to that land and we always ask that hunters have conservation and cooperation at the foremost of their minds when they’re out on the land,” she said.
“At this point in time, we’re encouraging hunters in the Ross River area to contact the Ross River Dena Council and voluntarily comply with their request for, for example, (a) shorter moose and caribou season and reducing hunting in specific areas.”
In an interview July 31, Yukon Fish and Game Association president Charles Shewen said he was “a little surprised and disappointed” about Environment Yukon’s decision to cancel the Finlayson caribou hunt and “concerned” about whether that decision was “based on conservation science.”
However, Shewen added he was glad that the Yukon government has provided “certainty” for hunters about, generally, how the season in the Ross River area will run.
“We’ve been pushing or working with the government … to provide certainty for Yukon hunters in the Ross River territory, and I think that it was very important that we got some certainty there, and so the statement saying that the laws of general application continue to apply is very, very, very important,” he said.
The association is “encouraged” that there are discussions about how to share resources with Kaska, Shewen continued, and will continue to work with Environment Yukon to understand what’s happening.
“A lot of people are just trying to get out on the land and enjoy some time off and put food in the freezer and this has … just snowballed now and I think people are generally kind of mystified, but we’ll keep working on the specific issues with the government,” he said.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Coun. Derrick Redies’ name.