Yukon Big Game Outfitters Ltd., whose caribou quota has been reduced to zero for the past two seasons, is taking the environment minister to court. (Yukon News file)

Yukon outfitter taking environment minister to court over reduction of caribou quota

Yukon Big Game Outfitters filed a petition to the Yukon Supreme Court Oct. 2

A Yukon outfitter whose caribou quota has been reduced to zero for the past two seasons is taking the environment minister to court.

Yukon Big Game Outfitters Ltd. filed a petition to the Yukon Supreme Court on Oct. 2, naming the Yukon government — specifically, “the Minister of the Environment” — as the respondent.

The company, which holds an outfitting concession in southeast Yukon that overlaps with the range of the Finlayson caribou herd, is asking for a court order quashing the minister’s decisions to reduce its caribou quota to zero for both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.

The decisions, it alleges, were unreasonable, based on improper interpretations of guidelines and legislation, and were “procedurally flawed,” among other things.

However, while the petition lists caribou quota decisions dating back to 2007 leading up to the current situation, it does not clearly distinguish between the people who have held to title of environment minister from that year forward.

In an email, Department of Justice spokesperson Fiona Azizaj said the government was aware of the petition but would not be commenting on its contents as the matter is now before the courts.

Outfitter Shawn Raymond also declined comment.

According to the petition, Yukon Big Game Outfitters has held outfitting concession area #20 since before the start of the 2012-13 hunting season. The concession itself has been subject to a caribou quota since at least 2007; in April 2012, the environment minister gave Yukon Big Game Outfitters a quota of seven caribou per year for three years.

The minister granted seven caribou again for the 2015-16 hunting season, the petition says, but “refused” to give a three-year quota “as the respondent advised that she needed to consult with the Ross River Dena Council.”

Although the minister is referred to as a “she,” presumably referring to current environment minister Pauline Frost, the minister at the time would have been the Yukon Party’s Wade Istchenko (Frost did not become minister until December 2016).

Yukon Big Game Outfitters received the same one-year, seven-caribou quota for the 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons but no three-year quota.

“Multi-year quotas as essential for outfitting businesses, as hunts will often be booked years in advance, and deposits are take in advance of such hunts,” the petition says. “Cancellations cause serious reputational damage in the small world of hunting outfitters.”

Things changed in July 2018, according to the petition, when the minister told Yukon Big Game Outfitters that its quota for the 2019/2020 season “would ‘initially be zero’ until a meeting was held with the Ross River Dena Council.”

That would have been shortly after the Ross River Dena Council issued a notice that it would be requiring non-Kaska hunters wishing to hunt on its traditional territory to obtain permits from the First Nation first. It also declared early closures and moratoriums in other areas, citing concerns for moose and caribou populations.

The petition says Yukon Big Game Outfitters was not consulted prior to the decision to set its caribou quota to zero; the minister, after a shareholder protested, referred the issue to the Concession and Compensation Review Board.

The board held a hearing in December 2019, at which point the minister had already told Yukon Big Game Outfitters that its caribou quota for 2020/2021 would also be zero. According to the petition, the board made a number of recommendations including that the caribou quota be set to two to four animals a year, or eight caribou over two years, and that Yukon Big Game Outfitters be compensated for the sudden reduction in its quota.

However, the petition alleges, the minister “advised” in March 2020 that she wouldn’t be following the recommendations in regards to the quota, and “further advised that none of the other recommendations made by the (board) were relevant.”

When Yukon Big Game Outfitters got its operating certificate in August with a zero caribou quota for the season, one of its shareholders once again expressed disagreement in writing, the petition says, but this time, the minister said the issue could not be referred to the Concession and Compensation Review Board.

“Throughout this entire saga, from 2007 until present, the Minister has taken no action to address the conservation of the Finlayson caribou herd, and to stabilize or increase the population of this herd,” the petition alleges.

“… Instead the Minister had cut-off (sic) Yukon residents and outfitters from the herd completely, on the basis that the RRDC has refused to report and cooperate with the government concerning the management of the herd.

“The Minister’s conduct sets a dangerous precedent, one where political expediency trumps the government’s duty to manage wildlife responsibly and fairly.”

A date for the petition’s hearing hasn’t been set.

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

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