Yukon hunters look to premier to solve Ross River hunting issue
'What is the government's position?' asks Yukon Fish and Game Association
The Yukon Fish and Game Association says it's looking for leadership from Yukon Premier Sandy Silver on the issue of hunting within the Ross River Dena Council's traditional territory.
"What are we going to be doing, moving forward? What is the government position?" Gord Zealand, the association's executive director, asked.
The government cancelled the Finlayson caribou hunt this year after the First Nation expressed concerns about overhunting.
The First Nation also notified hunters that they must obtain permits from the Ross River Dena, before hunting on the northern part of its traditional territory.
Representatives of Yukon hunting organizations watched from the public gallery of the Yukon Legislature on Thursday as the opposition peppered Environment Minister Pauline Frost with questions about hunting in general, and Ross River in particular.
"Are Yukon hunters still legally permitted to hunt in these game management zones and is there a legal requirement to comply with the restrictions put forward by the Ross River Dena Council?" MLA Wade Istchenko asked.
Frost said government regulations still apply, regardless of Ross River's expectations.
"It has been noted right from the very beginning of this discussion that the laws of general application apply, and we've made that noted in newspaper articles and advertisements and in specific meetings," she said.
'We're up in the air'
Afterwards, the hunting groups said they heard all the questions — but no answers.
Zealand says hunters don't want to get into a fight with the Ross River Dena Council, and that they recognize that it's the First Nation's traditional territory.
"First Nations have a right. And their rights are predominant over everybody else — that's not a question," Zealand said.
"But at the same time ... there has to be a process to deal with conservation. All of a sudden, decisions were made."
Zealand says decisions such as the suspension of the Finlayson caribou hunt, should go through the Fish and Wildlife Management Board.
Zealand says hunters need to see some leadership on the issue.
"I mean, we're up in the air. What are we really doing here? And what is the process, so that everybody understands it?" Zealand asked.
Not easy decisions, premier says
The Fish and Game Association says it's been asking to meet with the premier since the whole issue first erupted in July.
Premier Sandy Silver says he's open to meeting with the hunters — but says Frost has already been showing leadership on the issue.
"These are not easy decisions, and the missing link over the last decade was having that traditional knowledge being considered as scientific knowledge," Silver said.
"And we have a minister who's moving forward on the duties to consult, moving forward to get the First Nations data at the table. And you talk about leadership? This is what leadership looks like."
The government did not say, though, how the issue will eventually be resolved.
For its part, the Ross River Dena Council says this year's action was just the "first step."
It says it will expand its permit system next year, adding game guardians as well.