A grizzly bear is viewed by passers by near Carcross in 2017. Local experts disagree that there is a plague of grizzly bears in the Yukon, as was stated by British Columbia-based television personality Jim Shockey. (Jesse Winter/Yukon News file)

Yukon experts dispute TV personality’s grizzly bear “plague” claim

Outfitter Jim Shockey claimed there was a grizzly “plague” in a widely-shared November Facebook post

A British Columbia-based television personality with an outfitting concession in central Yukon is standing by his claim that there is a “plague” of grizzly bears in the territory — an assertion that experts strongly disagree with.

Jim Shockey, who has two adventure shows on the Outdoor Channel, made the comments in a Facebook post Nov. 29. The post featured a photo of Whitehorse elementary school teacher Valérie Théorêt​ and her infant, Adele Roesholt, who, three days earlier, were fatally attacked by a grizzly at their trapper’s cabin near Einarson Lake.

In the post, which has since been shared more than 19,000 times, Shockey, who runs Rogue River Outfitting and whose concession includes the Einarson Lake area, linked Théorêt​ and Adele’s deaths to the Yukon’s grizzly bear hunting quotas.

“In fact, I predicted that someone was going to get hurt if something wasn’t done to deal with the grizzly bear plague,” Shockey wrote. “Now this prediction has come to pass, in the most tragic way.”

“… IF (sic) the grizzly quota had been increased, to a level that it must be to prevent tragedies like this from happening,” the post continues, “there is a high probability, that one of our Rogue River clients would have killed that grizzly long before it had the opportunity to kill Valerie and Adele.”

In a phone interview Dec. 6, Shockey affirmed that he believes there’s an overabundance of grizzlies in the territory.

“The management of grizzly bears has been for increasing numbers,” he said. “… The problem is, you’ve got people who would rather have more grizzly bears than look at the unintended consequences of having more grizzly bears, you know?”

Hunting is a “proven” and “cost-effective” way to manage wildlife populations including predators, he said, reiterating that he believes a higher grizzly bear quota in the Einarson Lake area “would possibly avoid future conflicts.”

“This isn’t about money, it never was about money,” he said, when asked about criticism about the fact that his outfitting service would stand to gain from a higher quota. “This is about a tragedy and a tragedy that I felt could have possibly … been prevented with a higher quota.”

Under current regulations, licenced Yukon resident hunters are allowed to harvest one grizzly every three years. Outfitters, meanwhile are on a three-year quota system; the current quota for Shockey’s concession is 37 grizzlies, broken down over three subzones. The subzone that contains Einarson Lake has a quota of 11 grizzlies.

There are an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 grizzlies in the Yukon.

In an interview Dec. 18, Don Reid, a conservation zoologist with Wildlife Conservation Canada who has lived and worked in the Yukon for the past 15 years, described Shockey’s claims as “irresponsible” and “factually incorrect.”

“I think ‘plague’ is an inflammatory word,” Reid said. “It suggests very unusually high numbers and great deal of damage being caused to humans … and neither of those is happening.”

Human-bear conflicts are on the rise in the Yukon, Reid acknowledged, explaining that that can be tied into the territory’s growing human population and lack of natural food sources driving grizzlies into populated areas. But at the same time, he emphasized, there are also “so many” Yukoners who have encounters with grizzlies that don’t result in an “antagonistic interaction” at all.

“That was part of the rhetoric on the Facebook posting too, that grizzly bears are the apex predator, they’re always out there hunting people, and that’s just not the case,” Reid said.

“If they were out there regularly hunting people, we would see a whole lot more deaths because there’s a substantial number of grizzly bears in the territory and they’re living close to people, they could do a lot more damage. But that’s not their mindset.”

Environment Yukon spokesperson Roxanne Stasyszyn also said in a Dec. 5 interview that the department does not believe there’s a “plague” of grizzlies in the territory, noting that the species has been listed as one of special concern since 2012.

As well, she continued, the majority of recorded human-bear conflicts in the Yukon involve black bears, and human fatalities involving bears in general are “quite unusual and uncommon.”

According to data previously provided by Environment Yukon, prior to Théorêt​ and Roesholt, there had been three other human deaths associated with bear attacks over the past 22 years. In one of those cases, it was a deflected bullet, not the bear attack, that killed the victim.

Stasyszyn added that it would be “irresponsible” for the department to “speculate or make assumptions” about what caused the fatal attack on Théorêt​ and Roesholt before the Yukon chief coroner concludes her investigation on them incident.

“As I’m sure you can appreciate,” she said, “until that information is made public, Mr. Shockey himself has no confirmation of what exactly happened or unfolded there.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com