Retreating glacier makes Yukon sheep easy targets for hunters

Conservation officers have closed some areas near Kluane Lake to sheep hunters. More animals have been coming down from the mountains to graze on fresh grass, now growing on the lakeshore.

Government bans hunting in area along Kluane Lake's now grassy shore

The Yukon government says sheep have been coming down from the mountains and crossing the highway to reach the grassy shore of Kluane Lake. (Sue Thomas)

A retreating Yukon glacier has prompted conservation officers to close an area alongside Kluane Lake to sheep hunters. 

Conservation officers say sheep have been descending from Sheep Mountain in Kluane National Park and Reserve and crossing the Alaska Highway to graze on fresh grass growing on the shores of Kluane Lake. That's making them easy targets.

Typically, the sheep would avoid crossing the highway to reach the lakeshore.

But the lake's water level has dropped significantly this year, creating new grazing grounds. Hydrologists blame the nearby Kaskawulsh glacier which now sends its meltwater in a different direction, away from the lake. 

Meltwater from the Kaskawulsh glacier used to drain down the Slims River Valley to Kluane Lake before this year, when the river dried up. The meltwater now flows in a different direction. (Sue Thomas)

"It's a bit of a unique circumstance," said Shawn Taylor, Kluane regional biologist for the Yukon Government.

"Given that [the sheep] are a population that's been protected in the park, they're obviously habituated to people and they're just more vulnerable to being harvested."

Hunting ban

Hunting is now closed to all licensed resident and non-resident hunters in the area between Congdon Creek and the Slims River Bridge.

The closure will last until the end of the sheep hunting season, October 31st.

The hunting ban does not apply to First Nations members, but Taylor hopes there will be voluntary restrictions. 

"We are talking to our First Nation partners, and we're expressing the idea that this is a unique protected population of sheep [and] that we prefer that all hunters not take sheep from the area." 

Taylor said conservation officers are also concerned about road kill, if sheep continue to cross the highway to reach the new grazing grounds.

He urges motorists to slow down and be cautious, especially in the area near the Tachäl Dhäl visitor centre.

The closure will last until the end of sheep hunting season, Oct. 31. (Yukon Conservation Officer Services)

With files from Cheryl Kawaja


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