Celebrity gold miner pays $3,500 penalty for killing black bear

Celebrity gold miner Derek Dodge pleaded guilty to Wildlife Act charges in a Yukon court this week.

4 black bears were killed at Derek Dodge's mining camp, a plea deal clears the air for next season

Derek Dodge negotiated a plea deal for his company after being charged under the Yukon Wildlife Act. (DCL)

Four black bears were killed at Derek Dodge's mining camp over the summer of 2016. In Yukon Territorial Court on Tuesday, his company pleaded guilty to one charge under the Yukon Wildlife Act and agreed to pay a $3,500 penalty.

Both Dodge, a miner featured in the reality TV show Gold Rush, and his company Derek Dodge Mining Corp., were facing three charges each under the Yukon Wildlife Act: allowing a bear to become a nuisance, killing a bear without permission and failing to report it, and allowing a pelt to go to waste.

According to the act, each offence carried a fine of up to $100,000, up to two years in jail, or both.

The charges related to the death of only one of the four bears — the one Dodge admitted to killing at his mining camp near Carmacks on May 21, 2016.

According to the agreed facts presented in court by territorial Crown Lee Kirkpatrick, local conservation officers told Dodge on four different occasions between 2013 and 2016 that he needed to immediately report an emergency wildlife killing.

The last reminder was in March 2016. Two months later Dodge shot a black bear, and never reported it.

Over the course of that summer, his employees shot three other bears, none of which were reported.

A plea deal was reached in Yukon Territorial Court over the killing of four black bears two years ago near a gold mining operation. (Environment Yukon)

Dodge denied any killings

In September 2016, a patrolling conservation officer stopped at Dodge's camp and asked if there had been any issues with bears over the summer. Dodge said no. The officer asked if any had been killed, and Dodge again said no.

The Carmacks conservation branch found out about the killings after it received a report about a number of bears being killed at Dodge's camp.

According to what was presented in court, Dodge "got scared" and was worried his mining operation would be shut down for days if there had to be an investigation.

He also felt it was up to the employees to report their own kills.

Yukon reality stars are no strangers to the courts. Another Gold Rush star, Tony Beets and his company, were fined $31,000 for a stunt in 2014 when they allowed employees to pour gas into a dredge pond and then set it on fire. 

Ken Foy, one-time star of the History Channel's Yukon Gold, was fined $145,000 last year after leaving his placer claim near Dawson City environmentally damaged and littered with waste.

Plea deal arranged

Dodge's company pleaded guilty to one count of killing a bear and failing to report it. The other five charges against Dodge and his company were dropped.

Kirkpatrick told the court that she and Dodge had reached a mutual resolution. She believed a $3,500 penalty was "appropriate" and explained it would be paid in the form of a contribution to Wildwise Yukon. She entered evidence of a cheque written from Dodge's company to the non-profit.

Afterwards, Judge William Digby asked Dodge, who joined by phone from Seattle, if he had anything to add.

"We'll be back next year," he replied.

The judge wished him a good mining season, free from any additional conflict with bears.

'There can be a cultural change'

'It's easy to shoot, shovel, and shut up,' says Sebastian Jones, with the Yukon Conservation Society. (Sebastian Jones)
Sebastian Jones, wildlife and habitat advocate for the Yukon Conservation Society, believes the case shows that bears in Yukon are sometimes killed too freely.

"I'm sad to hear that it appears that people still view the approach to dealing with bears when they show up at camp is to shoot them," he said.

"It's easy to shoot, shovel, and shut up."

Jones said he's pleased that Dodge's penalty money is going to Wildwise Yukon, since that organization aims to reduce human-bear conflicts.

"There are most definitely ways of avoiding having to kill bears when you're living out in the bush ...there can be a cultural change — and it is changing around the Yukon."