Old Crow MLA and Minister of Environment Pauline Frost wrote the following open letter to the Yukon Fish and Game Association.
August 9, 2018
Yukon Fish and Game Association
Dear Mr. Shewen:
Re: Licensed harvest opportunities and caribou conservation
Last week I received a letter the Yukon Fish and Game Association (YFGA) sent to its members expressing concerns around hunting in the Ross River area this season and the Finlayson caribou hunt. Further to our telephone conversations over the last few weeks, I am writing to provide information about the Finalyson permits and outfitter quotas.
I am a member of the YFGA and, like many other Yukoners, I am a hunter. Each year I look forward to hunting season, the time I get to spend out on the land, and the opportunity to provide my family with wild game.
Since the Department of Environment began monitoring the Finlayson caribou herd over 30 years ago, it has declined from an estimated 5950 individuals in 1990 to 2712 individuals in 2017, a decrease of over 55% in the last 27 years. As a result of this concerning trend, we proposed meeting with the Ross River Dena Council (RRDC) representatives and affected outfitters to discuss survey results and the implications for managing harvest, and to consider potential changes to the outfitter quota and number of resident permits. Despite attempts to engage RRDC, they were not available to discuss their concerns until this July. Based on the data from the Department of Environment and the serious concerns raised by the RRDC about the health of the Finlayson herd during that meeting, I made the decision to cancel the Finlayson permit hunt this season. It was a difficult decision but one I feel is the best long term choice for Yukoners.
Department of Environment officials were clear with those hunters who were successful in the Finlayson Permit draw this year. The 30 successful applicants were contacted directly following the draw and told that permits were on hold pending discussions about the Finlayson caribou herd, and that a final decision would be made prior to August 1. At no point were Finlayson permits issued or applied to hunters’ electronic profiles.
The Department of Environment’s policy is to consult with First Nations before implementing or changing fish and wildlife management approaches in their traditional territories. We also provide one year’s notice to outfitters to avoid the high potential for damage to client bookings and business relationships. When we reached out to discuss conservation concerns for the Finlayson herd in 2017, outfitters indicated a willingness to meet but agreed it was essential for RRDC to be part of these discussions. Two outfitters share a total quota of 9 Finlayson caribou and each had their quota renewed in April 2018 for one year. Following our meeting with the RRDC in July there was no practical way of revoking those renewals without causing significant financial loss and reputational damage to those local businesses. It was a difficult decision and one that I hope we do not have to make again. Those outfitters have since been advised that their Finlayson quota will be set to zero starting next year.
Not all Yukon First Nations have settled their Final and Self-Government Agreements and we must find ways to work together with those First Nations so that we can manage wildlife together. Whether you are a hunter, outfitter or First Nations citizen, we all share the same goal: to ensure healthy animal populations in the Yukon while providing the opportunity to sustainably harvest food for our families.
As our government has made clear, the laws of general application continue to apply in the Ross River area, as they do across the territory.
I would like to thank YFGA members for their understanding and cooperation this season. The patience, strength, and experience of Yukon hunters will help guide us towards healthy animal populations and peaceful, ethical hunting practices in our territory for generations to come.