Yukon looks to preserve and manage grizzly bear population
'There's been many places where grizzly bears have gone extinct,' says biologist Tom Jung
Grizzly bears are generally doing "quite well" in Yukon, according to government biologist Tom Jung — and wildlife officials are aiming to keep it that way.
The territorial government is developing a conservation and management plan for the species, and it's asking Yukoners to weigh in on what that plan might look like.
The goal, Jung says, is to ensure that Yukon's grizzlies don't go the way of their cousins down south.
"Their populations often decline, and there's been many places where grizzly bears have gone extinct — a lot of the lower 48 [states] for example, some of the prairies provinces," he said.
"So, the writing's on the wall that this is a species that if we're not careful ... we could be in that situation."
The plan would apply only to grizzlies, not black bears which are also common in Yukon.
Grizzly bears once ranged as far east as the Mississippi River, and as far south as central Mexico. Today, it's considered a threatened species in much of the U.S., and the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) lists Western grizzlies as a species of special concern. The prairie population is considered extinct in Canada.
A 2013 status report by COSEWIC estimated there were about 26,000 grizzly bears in Western Canada, with the majority of them in B.C. (approximately 15,000). Yukon had an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 grizzlies.
The federal government says loss and fragmentation of habitat is one of the biggest threats to Canada's grizzly population. A naturally low reproductive rate adds to the population's vulnerability.
"Even within the Yukon, there are areas where they may be doing better than in other areas. And part of the plan is trying to look at ways that we can monitor the situation," Jung said.
"So we're trying to be proactive here."
Environment Yukon, along with the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board, is asking Yukoners to fill out an online survey about grizzlies. It asks about people's experiences hunting the bears, or seeing them in the wild. It also asks opinions about bear conservation and protection.
"Grizzly bears are kind of a species of national interest, and so if there's going to be a national recovery plan — as it's a species of special concern — then we want [Yukon's] plan to be able to inform the national discussion," said Tecla Van Bussel of the Fish and Wildlife Management Board.
"We're hoping to hear from folks across the territory ... and make sure it's representative of everyone's perspectives."
The survey asks about specific issues, such as roadside hunting and camping restrictions, but Jung said the resultant management plan "may not get down into the weeds".
"It's meant to really be a foundation, or framework, piece that we can use to manage bears from, so that when we do hit certain issues that we want to discuss ... that we have this piece and we can [look] back and see whether our actions are consistent with our overall management direction."
The deadline to fill out the online survey is Saturday.
With files from Sandi Coleman