Yukoners speak out on roadside bear hunt

Yukoners have complicated emotions when it comes to shooting bears on the side of the road.

Yukoners have complicated emotions when it comes to shooting bears on the side of the road.

About 60 people gathered Tuesday evening to discuss conflicts between bear hunting and bear viewing in the territory, and what should be done about it.

The Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board hosted the meeting. It has been tasked to review roadside bear hunting in the territory and prepare recommendations to the minister of environment.

Most of the people who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting were hunters, but that doesn’t mean they all want to see bears shot on the side of the road. Many acknowledged the special attachment that humans have to bears.

“They are kind of apart from other game in my heart and in my mind,” said one 65-year-old hunter, who does not hunt bears.

“I have a hard time taking a bear anyways, because I just love the animals,” he said. “I also happen to like bear meat – they make wonderful sausage.”

Though he doesn’t hunt bears, if he were to take one, he would take the animal from the side of the road, he said. It won’t make a difference to the bear where it is harvested.

“If I’m going to shoot a bear and one conveniently presents itself in the ditch, believe me I’m going to save myself the pain, because I have to spend several hours in the hot tub and at the masseur after a good hunt.”

The Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board has been looking into the issue of roadside hunting for many years.

It was asked by then-environment minister John Edzerza in 2010 to look into a no-hunting corridor on the Atlin Road after there were several complaints of bears being shot in the area.

Tensions flared again last year when a blonde grizzly was legally shot on the Tagish Road.

The board has twice recommended against hunting bans on the Atlin Road. But now it is taking a territory-wide look at the question.

Possible options would include doing nothing and allowing the roadside bear hunt to continue, banning roadside bear hunting completely, or banning roadside bear hunting in certain areas where the likelihood of conflict is high, said Rob Florkiewicz, who works in Yukon Environment’s fish and wildlife branch and sits on the working group that’s looking at the issue.

The numbers of bears taken each year from roadsides is small, he said. To the best of his research, maybe two grizzlies and six black bears are taken from Yukon roadsides each year.

Bruce Bennett, who has spent 12 years as the Yukon’s wildlife viewing biologist, spoke with the conviction of a preacher on the need to protect at least some areas for roadside bear viewing opportunities.

Yukoners and tourists alike want to see bears when they look for wildlife, he said.

“The No. 1 thing you want to see, beyond anything else, is a bear – a grizzly bear in particular.”

He once was with a bus-load of biologists when they came upon a grizzly, he said as an example.

“These biologists had spent their lives in the bush, and you should have seen how excited they were in the Takhini burn to see a grizzly bear digging up a stump.”

But when people ask where to go to see bears, there’s nowhere he can point them to because there’s nowhere protected from hunting, Bennett said.

“We’d actually have bear viewing presentations, and people would come out to our bear viewing presentations to get ideas on where to hunt.”

But others argued that bear viewing and bear hunting rights should be treated equally, and that therefore neither activity should be restricted. Banning roadside hunting would most hurt the hunters without the time, money, resources and fitness to get deeper into the bush.

“I’m probably almost exclusively a roadside hunter because I do fall into that poor-with-no-time category, so the spring bear hunt is by far one of the few reasons I have to get out during my evenings,” said one young man from Marsh Lake.

“It’s nice to see bears and view them. The harvesting, it’s definitely for me more opportunistic because I don’t have the time and equipment to get deep into the bush. I don’t have a boat to go down the rivers, I don’t have an Argo or an ATV to get deeper in.”

Some argued that the level of conflict over the roadside bear hunt does not demand a change.

The issue gets a lot of media attention every few years, but the conflict is not constant.

“I’m a big fan of viewing wildlife, a massive fan of that, actually,” said one bear hunter. “I don’t think the numbers justify change. I don’t think there’s enough. Every 10 years, maybe, there might be a bear that there’s a petition for.”

Carl Sidney, chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council, earned an enthusiastic round of applause when he suggested putting money towards enforcing existing laws rather than coming up with new ones.

“I’ve never ever heard of a nuisance bear or a trouble bear when I was growing up. I don’t know where the heck they came from – it’s a new breed or something,” said Sidney with a hint of sarcasm.

“We’re the problem. Us human beings are the problem. It’s not the bears.”

How much money have we spent on meetings and studies about this issue? he asked.

“I’m sure that’s enough money to hire another conservation officer to go and enforce what laws they have already, instead of making more laws.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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