Invasive ticks, elk herds tick off Yukoners

Yukoners at a public meeting Tuesday said the clock is ticking on saving the moose population from a pesky parasite: winter ticks discovered earlier this year in elk herds. Many were also ticked off at the elk.

Retired biologist suggests destroying all elk to save moose population

Yukonersata public meeting Tuesday said the clock is ticking on saving the moose population from a pesky parasite — winter ticks discovered earlier this year in elk herds.

Many at the forum to discuss the government's new elk management strategy also blamed the elk themselves for putting the indigenous moose at risk.

"We're sitting on a time bomb. It's ticking," Grant Lortie, a retired Yukon government wildlife biologist, told the meeting. "I think it's the priority issue in the management plan."

In March, government wildlife biologists found winter ticks — also known as moose ticks or elk ticks — among 20 elk they captured.

While they do not pose a risk to human or elk health, winter ticks can spread from elk to moose.Infected moosecan lose hair and blood, and possibly die from emaciation and exposure due to hair loss.

Michelle Oakley, an Environment Department wildlife veterinarian, said it does not appear the ticks have moved from elk to moose, but the fall isa prime time for that to happen.

"We probably have a narrow window of opportunity. If we want to do anything about the ticks, if we decide that's what we need to do, then we probably should do something sooner than later."

Lortie said the government should even consider slaughtering every wild elk in the territory to save moose from the insect, arguing that it's only a matter of time before moose start dying off after being infected by the ticks.

"If it looks like it's a thing that has to be done, then I wouldn't hesitate to do it," he said.

Lortie said if the ticks start infecting moose, the death toll could reach 50 per cent of the total population in the territory.

At Tuesday's meeting, some questioned the presence of the non-indigenous elk herd itself, raising fears that the infected elks in particular could decimate the indigenous moose population.

Elk was first introduced to the Yukon from Alberta in the 1950s. They currently exist in three separate herds, from the Takhini Valley to Braeburn Lake north, and northwest of Whitehorse.

Some people at the meeting told the elk management team that it's spending a lot of money on an introduced species, and suggested that the government control their numbers, not expand them.

Members of the elk management team said they would now wait for the political decision about what to do next.

While Oakley said her department has been consulting, researching and conducting a risk assessment on the winter ticks, it is ultimately up to Environment Minister Dennis Fentie to make the call on what to do.

But Fentie, also the Yukon's premier, has not commented on the issue. Government spokesman Dennis Senger told CBC News that Fentie has not been fully briefed on the winter tick problem, and biologists will be briefing him before they talk to the media.

Senger also said government officials are considering a study of ticks in elk and moose this winter, but no decisions have been made.