Yukon’s big wildlife management challenge? Rolling the elephant

Prescriptive, ad hoc, reactionary: these are some of the ways Yukon's wildlife protection regime is described by Don Hutton, co-chair of the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board.

Prescriptive, ad hoc, reactionary: these are some of the ways Yukon’s wildlife protection regime is described by Don Hutton, co-chair of the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board.

“It’s not that it’s not working,” he said. “It’s not working as well as it could.”

He hopes this will soon change.

The board, along with representatives of Yukon’s renewable resource committees and the salmon sub-committee, announced last week an initiative they hope will usher in a “new era” of wildlife management, with an agreement that will see these parties work more collaboratively at fixing wildlife management problems before they blow up, rather than after the fact.

“We’re in a time of transition. Maybe it’s going to get messy for a while. Change doesn’t come easy – especially changing how government does things. We’re trying to roll over the elephant.”

Currently, wildlife managers often find themselves two steps behind every problem. By the time new hunting regulations for a species of concern have been approved, a new problem has already emerged.

For Hutton and others, the solution lies in using detailed management plans for species of concern. The territory also needs a comprehensive fish and wildlife strategy to help tie these plans together, he said.

“It’s going to be a huge undertaking,” he said. “We’ve never had one.”

That’s where the elephant comes in. All these undertakings are up to the territorial government.

“We hope and expect that we’ll be taken seriously,” said Hutton.

Now is a time of flux for Yukon’s wildlife. Hutton lists a few examples of animal sightings that would have been unheard of 20 years ago: cougars have been spotted near Old Crow during the summer; polar bears have been seen along the Dempster Highway, and deer are venturing from British Columbia into southern Yukon.

No better time, then, to overhaul how wildlife is managed, before things get really bogged down.

Currently, the board and RRCs spend most of their time and energy dealing with administrative chores. They’re overwhelmed and underfunded, said Hutton.

The Umbrella Final Agreement, which spawned Yukon’s bevy of wildlife organizations, talks of community-based wildlife management. To date, Yukon hasn’t seen much of this in practice, said Wade Istchenko, co-chair of the Alsek RRC.

“We’re looking at taking that back,” he said.

So far, the Yukon government hasn’t been afraid to dismiss recommendations made by RRCs that don’t jive with the advice of territorial staff.

Such was the case this summer, when the Yukon government flouted the advice of the Lake Laberge RRC. It wanted a ban on hunting sheep on Pilot Mountain until the fragile sheep population rebounded in numbers.

The next time such a dispute occurs, expect other RRCs to pile in.

“Working together always works better,” said Istchenko. “A neighbourhood watch is always a good idea.”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.