Porcupine caribou left along Dempster troubles First Nations, conservation officials

Yukon conservation officers and First Nations members are troubled over the number of dead or injured porcupine caribou that have been found along the Dempster highway this year.

Conservation officer blames 'pandemonium' when herd arrived in area

Remains of a caribou found earlier this fall near the Yukon/N.W.T. border. (submitted by Environment Yukon)

Yukon conservation officers say more caribou than usual are being found left injured or dead this year in the bush off the Dempster Highway in northern Yukon.

Shawn Hughes is a district Conservation Officer based out of Dawson City. During the busy caribou season, he patrols the length of the Dempster, from kilometer 0 to the N.W.T. border.

"There's no excuse for losing animals when you're shooting into a herd. To me, that's not respectful," Hughes said.

Hughes says hunters got carried away this year because the porcupine caribou herd had been avoiding its traditional migratory route along the Dempster for the past four or five years.
Hughes said some hunters were shooting dozens of caribou at a time, earlier this year. 'People are a bit more reasonable now,' he said. (Meagan Deuling/CBC)

"I think the pandemonium that came with the caribou arriving has ended to some extent. People are a bit more reasonable now," Hughes said.

"We're seeing subsistence harvesters, for example, taking five, six, seven caribou at a time, instead of 40, 50 or 60."

'That's not hunting'

Seven First Nations traditionally rely on the porcupine caribou for meat and fur.

Robert Alexie Sr., a member of the Tetlit Gwich'in First Nation in Fort McPherson, N.W.T., doesn't like how some people in his community hunt.

"That's not hunting, that's slaughtering, is what it's called now. They call that hunting today," Alexie said. He said hunting is work, and young people need to be taught the old ways.

"You can't teach kids in a classroom with a blackboard, you want them out on the land. You've got to take them out there and teach them straight."

The Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation, based in Dawson City, runs a yearly education program called First Hunt. Peter Nagano, who helps run the program, said this year there were 28 children participating.

Nagano helps teach how to shoot rifles properly. Students also learn about snares, hear stories from elders, and have biologists and conservation officers teach them about caribou biology. The idea is to teach children to hunt, so they take care of the herd.
Caribou innards visible from the road. (Meagan Deuling)

Nagano said there's been a lot of talk about the dead animals being left in the bush this year, but he said it's been happening for years.

"We call that northern, it happens in the North," Nagano said.

He believes it's not Yukon-registered hunters, or Yukon First Nation members, who kill and injure caribou and leave them in the bush. But he's also reluctant to place the blame on anyone in particular.

He said it's tricky in a small community.

"They could be your closest friends who are doing it and you just don't want to talk about it. I don't know how you're going to educate them," Nagano said.

The Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in have invited other First Nations to participate in First Hunt. 


  • An earlier version of this story featured a photo of two dead caribou in the back of a conservation officer's truck. CBC used the photo believing the caribou had been shot and abandoned by hunters. In fact, Environment Yukon said those caribou were hit by a vehicle. We have replaced the photo.
    Nov 18, 2015 4:10 PM CT


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