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Yukon government eases bison hunting rules

The Yukon government has lifted restrictions on hunting wood bison to help cull the animal’s exploding population.

The Yukon government has lifted restrictions on hunting wood bison to help cull the animal’s exploding population.

There will be no limit to the number of bison hunting permits released for the coming winter hunt, to be held from December 1 to February 28.

In past years, the hunt was regulated by a lottery that awarded a fixed number of permits to eligible hunters.

Also gone is a restriction that prevented a hunter who had shot one bison from hunting another for the next five years.

The total allowable harvest for the winter season is 200 bison. If that number is not reached by the end of February, the season will be extended for an additional month.

The changes are driven by Yukon’s booming bison population, which is estimated to be 1,100 — more than double the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board’s recommended population of 500.

The wood bison range has expanded far from its heart in the Nisling River valley, where the species was reintroduced in the late 1980s. Buffalo are now found roaming as far as the Alaska-Yukon border.

Meanwhile, hunters report that bison have become more wily and increasingly difficult to shoot.

The animals have learned to flee at the sound of a snowmobile approaching, said Dennis Senger, communications director for the department of Environment. Successful hunters must now crawl long distances through the snow, he said.

To add to difficulties, the bison range is largely in the shadow of the Coast Mountains, which means rough-going terrain for snowmobiles, with little snow and many rocks.

As a result, the success rate of hunters pursuing bison has dropped from about 90 per cent during early years of the hunt, which started in 1998, to only 35 per cent in the past four years.

The government issued a total of 282 bison-hunting permits last year, but only 99 bison were successfully shot.

Of those licences, 155 went to licensed hunters, 110 went to First Nation residents, 10 went to outfitters, one went to the fish and game association and six went to schools for class hunting trips.

The new hunting rules do not apply to bison found near Watson Lake, which belong to a separate herd.

Hunters interested in obtaining a permit must complete a bison hunt workshop. Workshops are to be held in Whitehorse on October 28 and November 4. Workshops are also to be held in Ross River, Watson Lake and Haines Junction.

For more information contact Randy Fraser, the Yukon’s hunter education co-ordinator, at 667-5617.