A mild winter may be one of the reasons for this year's record harvest of bison in Yukon. Environment Yukon says there were 173 reported kills this year — 26 more than the annual average.
"One of the things definitely was a warmer winter," says Tom Jung, senior wildlife biologist with the Yukon government. "It was more appealing, I suppose, for people to get out and spend time on the land."
Jung also credits the government's management strategy. In January, several new hunting areas were opened near Whitehorse. The government also created maps to help hunters determine where they were most likely to find the animals.
Jung also says hunters should take credit, for putting in the time and effort to find the notoriously shy animals.
"Bison are pretty smart animals when it comes to hunting, as most people will tell you. They hear a snow machine and they take off," Jung says. "You have to work so hard, stalking them."
Bison hunting is encouraged and promoted in Yukon because the Aishihik herd is larger than desired. Jung estimates there to be about 1300 animals right now. The government's target population is 1,000.
Wood bison were introduced to the Yukon wild in the late 1990s. Jung says it wasn't clear then whether the species would be hardy enough to flourish in the region. It's clear now, he says.
"They do quite well, it's kind of surprising," Jung says. "They have no trouble."
Dozens of Yukon bison were taken to Alaska in 2003 and 2008, to help re-introduce the species there. After several years of captive breeding at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Anchorage, 100 bison were released into the wild earlier this month. The AWCC says it's the first population of wild wood bison in the U.S. in more than a century.
Jung admits that bison management in Yukon is still a work in progress. He says it hasn't even been 20 years since they were re-introduced. It's not yet clear what impact the herd is having on the local ecosystem.
"There is some concern that there may be impacts of the bison on other wildlife or the land. They may impact people's use of the area," Jung says. "So until people feel a little more comfortable with those impacts, there's a desire to keep the herd down."