At least one Yukon aboriginal leader is praising new hunting restrictions that aim to protect the Porcupine caribou herd, but hunters from the neighbouring Northwest Territories say they don't support the rules.
The Yukon government's interim rules, announced last week, require hunters to report all the caribou they kill in the Yukon and to hunt bulls only. Aboriginal hunters can still hunt as many bulls as they want, but they are banned from killing cows.
Hunters violate the restrictions could face warnings or tickets ranging from $75 to $100.
The Yukon government imposed the measures, effective immediately, to curb a decline in the Porcupine caribou herd, considered the Yukon's largest herd. Government wildlife officials estimate the herd to have between 90,000 and 100,000 animals, which is only half the size it was 20 years ago.
"Personally, I think it couldn't come soon enough," Chief Joe Linklater of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow, Yukon, told CBC News.
"There is an aboriginal right to hunt, but as far as I'm concerned, with rights come responsibilities. And those rights aren't going to mean a whole heck of a lot when there's no more caribou to hunt."
Aimed at highway hunters
The restrictions primarily target hunters from the Northwest Territories who travel down the Dempster Highway to hunt caribou in the Yukon. Conservation officers will monitor hunters from reporting stations along the highway to ensure all Yukon kills are reported.
Caribou surveys suggest that Gwich'in and Inuvialuit hunters from the N.W.T., as well as Alaskan hunters, account for 80 per cent of the 4,000 Porcupine caribou harvested each year.
"Last year, we heard that there were people from as far away as Paulatuk on the Dempster Highway hunting, and that's because they're not allowed to hunt caribou there," Linklater said, referring to the N.W.T. community.
Linklater said his First Nation relies on the Porcupine caribou herd for food, saying the herd must be protected from a growing number of people hunting from the Dempster Highway.
But in Inuvik, N.W.T., hunter Hank Rogers Sr. said he already hunts responsibly and reports his Yukon caribou kills back to the Northwest Territories government.
"They have forms there to report your kill of caribou, so I think we already do that. To duplicate it again it's just more paperwork, I think," said Rogers, who heads up the local hunters and trappers organization.
"We don't go killing a bunch of cows. We try to get the bulls and try to make sure we stay with getting bulls only. As hunters ourselves, we try to maintain a good herd by not overhunting and all that kind of stuff."
Voluntary cutbacks 'key'
The Yukon hunting rules are stronger than voluntary cutbacks already issued to hunters by the Porcupine Caribou Management Board, which has members from the federal Yukon and N.W.T. governments, as well as First Nations officials.
The board is asking hunters not to hunt cows on a voluntary basis, while it continues to develop a harvest management plan for the Porcupine caribou herd.
"Voluntary is the key," said board chairman Joe Tetlichi. "Our management plan is a long-term plan, and it's going to achieve what we've been looking at, and that's conservation."
Ron Morrison, the Inuvik area superintendent for the N.W.T. Environment Department, agreed that the Yukon's interim hunting restrictions should not get in the way of progress of the caribou management plan.
"We worked and discussed these with both of the Inuvialuit and the Gwich'in. We understand that there is very little support from those organizations for the interim measures," Morrison said.
"We're just hoping any negative impact from those interim measures on the harvest management planning process is minimized as much as possible."
But Linklater said the caribou board's voluntary cutbacks have proven to be useless.
"It's really unrealistic, and I'm really disappointed in the chair of the Porcupine Caribou Management Board," Linklater said. "He should have been providing much stronger leadership."