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This week’s mailbox: Takhini elk concerns

If Government can’t treat Farmers fairly and equally, then Government should re-zone the Takhini Valley to something other than Agriculture

If Government can’t treat Farmers fairly and equally, then Government should re-zone the Takhini Valley to something other than Agriculture

The Takhini Elk Herd remains a problem for Agriculturalists in the Takhini Valley and will likely continue to be a problem until an honest effort is made to remove them. YTG’s (Government of Yukon) legislation and policy protects the elk while prohibiting farmers from protecting their property, life and livestock from the elk. The elk are left to ravage crops, ruin fields and fences and harass and even kill farm animals leaving farmers operating at a loss even though the Takhini Valley is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the Whitehorse periphery.

The elk are an introduced species first imported in 1951 following the Fish and Game Association’s successful lobbying of YTG for new hunting opportunities and to reduce pressure on indigenous ungulates. The initial elk transplants were introduced into the Braeburn Lake and Hutshi Vowel Mountain areas between 1951 and 1989. The Takhini Valley herd was established between 1990 and 1994. The elk were also introduced with tick; this was well known at the time of release. These tick will or have spread and infect the native, indigenous wildlife as well as the introduced elk.

In September 1990, the Management Plan for the “Takhini Valley Elk Population” (EMP) came into force. The plan outlined a population goal of 100 elk premised upon the carrying capacity of winter range and ability of the population to sustain mortality and avoid genetic problems.

The EMP also defined the area where the elk were intended to stay as the “Core Elk Range, Takhini Valley.” That is the geographic area between the Takhini River Bridge west of Whitehorse through to the Mendenhall River about 25 kilometers farther west. The Plan stated “It is envisioned that the interest of the public and the elk would be best served by reserving the core range as a “Special Wildlife Management Area.

Had the elk range remained in the core area, there would have been little elk impact on Takhini Valley farmers. In 2008, however, the government designated the Takhini Valley between the Takhini River bridge, the Alaska Hwy and the Klondike Highway turn off as an elk “Buffer Zone”, thus also protecting the elk in that area. This Buffer Zone comprised the entirety of the Takhini Valley Agricultural Zone.

Prior to the importation of the Takhini Valley elk and the establishment of the EMP, the Agricultural Development Areas Regulations (ADAR) came into force May 16, 1989. The ADAR outlined the requirements for Agricultural Land uses and agreement for sale applications which, together with the Area Development Act and Regulations, mandated agriculture as the primary use for the Takhini Agricultural Lands. Primary use is required to be demonstrated prior to permits being issued for improvements. (including the farmer’s primary dwelling). One method of demonstrating primary use is by Gross farm sales of least $15,000 for two of the previous three tax years.

Perhaps today’s conflict between agriculture and elk was not foreseen when those two YTG policies, one mandating and governing agriculture and farm development, and the other mandating the Takhini Valley as ‘Core Elk Range,’ were initially established. But with the growth of the elk herd the inappropriateness of mandating the same land for those two opposing uses has become painfully evident as the elk ravage with impunity the farms which the Government zoned for agriculture and encouraged farmers to develop at great cost in time, work and coin. (The Takhini herd now has a minimum confirmed count of 247 animals, far beyond the originally planned 100 animals, but the number is likely much higher).

Farmers in the Takhini Valley simply don’t have the funding and resources to ward off the elk and sustain the damages caused by them indefinitely. Our farm (Eldorado Ranch) has constructed over 5 miles of 8 foot high game fence around some of our production fields which had to be completely rebuilt from years of elk caused damage. The cost was well over a million dollars and many years of hard work. (Costs for installation of 8 foot game fence are in the vicinity of $17 per linear foot).

The Elk Management Plan(s) (2008 and 2016) put the farmers in the Takhini Valley at a clear and unfair disadvantage. The government encouraged the establishment of farms in the Takhini Valley, enforces primary use, then established, and continues to allow, its competing use as ‘free for all’ elk range.

Farmers in the Takhini Valley Buffer Zone can not protect themselves, or their property and investment from the ‘government elk’ without being charged; but anybody including famers in the Exclusion Zone which is the majority of the Yukon can hunt elk 365 days a year. Whereas, Farmers in the Buffer Zone can not realize the full potential of their farms nor their hope of a decent return on their investment with the government elk free to come and do damage. As yet the government has not seen fit to properly manage the elk problem, nor alternatively, offer farmers appropriate compensation.

Given the circumstances we are in today with global food supply interruptions and soaring prices, improving food security for Yukon should be a priority. But if the Government values the introduced elk more than local food supply, then maybe an alternative to resolving the Takhini Valley agriculture vs elk conflict should be considered.

Given the present dire shortage of land and housing, the Takhini farmlands could be turned into a housing shortage solution. Yukon residents need the extra space and Takhini Valley farmers need the relief. Re-zone the Takhini Valley maybe.

I believe, the continuation of farming and ranching would be preferable, but it is time to decide what we really want.

What do you want? If it is local food production and greater food security, please call your MLA or Minister in charge and let him/her know. Likewise, if you want the elk to remain in the Takhini Valley agricultural zone to continue ravaging farms, do the same and express your opinion(s), but hopefully with a caveat that the government compensate the farmers accordingly.

Surely the burden of the Government’s conflicting agriculture and elk policies should not be carried by the Takhini Valley farmers alone.

What would you say or do if the farmer was you?

Wayne Grove

El Dorado Ranch

About the Author: Black Press Media Staff

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