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Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in asks Yukon government to postpone Fortymile caribou hunt

The Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation is asking the Yukon government to put a temporary halt on plans to allow more licensed hunting of the Fortymile caribou herd this summer.

Hunt is 'responsible thing to do' for herd's health, says Environment Yukon biologist

Caribou graze near the Dempster Highway. The Yukon government plans to issue 160 hunting permits to harvest animals from the Fortymile herd, between Aug. 1 and Sep. 9. (Heather Avery/CBC)

The Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation is asking the Yukon government to put a temporary halt on plans to allow more licensed hunting of the Fortymile caribou herd this summer.

"I wish the Yukon government would retract their permitted hunt, and sit down, consult and let's talk again — because obviously it didn't come through the last time that we wanted to put off the August hunt," said Simon Nagano, deputy chief of the First Nation.

"They just seem not to be listening, at a government-to-government level."

On Monday, the territorial government announced that up to 160 hunting permits would be issued to harvest animals from the Fortymile herd, between Aug. 1 and Sep. 9.

It will be the second permitted hunt this year, after more than two decades of the herd being off-limits. Hunting was halted in the 1990s when numbers dwindled; the population has since recovered.

A permitted hunting season last winter was open from Jan. 1 to March 31, with 225 tags available on a rotating basis. The government says 66 permits were issued, and 14 animals were harvested. 

This summer's season will also see permits issued at intervals of five days, with 20 permits being valid at any one time.

'We're not against the permitted hunt'

The Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in also cried foul when the government first offered permits last winter. 

The First Nation was not opposed to the hunt at that time, but said it should wait until there was a herd management plan in place with the Yukon government, under the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in Final Agreement.

Nagano said it's the same issue now.

"We're not against the permitted hunt," he said. "We're saying to the Yukon government that we want our harvest management plan under our final agreements."

Nagano said the First Nation's harvest management plan is still in the works, and will need to go before a general assembly for approval by First Nation citizens, to be finalized.

"All they have to do is just hold off, wait till the harvest management plan is in place, wait till our citizens reconnect with Fortymile caribou, and everything would have been in balance," he said.

Nagano says if the summer hunt is called off, the First Nation would support more permits being handed out next winter.

But Mike Suitor, a North Slope and migratory caribou biologist for Environment Yukon, says the permitted hunt will go ahead, beginning on Saturday.

"It is our view ... that the most responsible thing to do is to continue with this hunt, for the health of the herd, to ensure that the herd is doing well," he said.

"And we believe we can do a licensed hunt that is not contingent on a completed [harvest management] plan."

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