Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Chuck Tobin

EXPLAINING THE PROBLEM – Retired farmer Mike Blumenschein explains the damage elk can cause at farms in the Takhini Valley. Left to right are NDP Leader Kate White, Blumenschein, Cain Vangel, president of the Yukon Agricultural Association, Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers and deputy minister Manon Moreau of Environment Yukon.

Image title

Photo by Chuck Tobin

FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT – Takhini Valley farmer Loralee Johnstone describes the damage elk can do to fencing and crop fields.

Elk munching on crops, harassing livestock

Farmers in the Takhini River Valley have had it with the wild elk that cause damage to fencing, their crop fields and bother their livestock.

By Chuck Tobin on June 4, 2021

Farmers in the Takhini River Valley have had it with the wild elk that cause damage to fencing, their crop fields and bother their livestock.

The Yukon Agricultural Association hosted a media tour of four farms last Friday to hear what the farmers had to say about the problem.

They were unanimous in their call for the government to step up and do something.

The farmers believe the government should allow open elk hunting throughout the Takhini Valley, even in what’s called the core zone where elk are protected.

The animals would eventually become skittish, and would move further and further away from populated areas – and farms.

The first of the elk were transplanted from Alberta to the Yukon beginning in 1989.

It was estimated a couple of years ago that the population of the Takhini herd was in the neighbourhood of 230 animals.

Retired farmer Mike Blumenschein led the tour to his former farm off the Takhini River Road that he sold in 2016 to Loralee and Kevin Johnstone.

The tour included stops at three other farms through the valley. Along for the tour were NDP Leader Kate White, deputy minister John Bailey of the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, and deputy minister Manon Moreau of Environment Yukon.

Loralee Johnstone said she knows of a farmer who had a couple of elk in their yard. Now they’re in the freezer – and the elk don’t stop by anymore.

Johnstone said every year they get a permit to chase and harass the elk, but they come back.

“They just get to the point where they don’t care,” she said. “The only thing we are trying to do is stop the elk from conflict.”

Blumenschein said the First Nations want them gone out of the valley, as does the Alsek Renewable Resource Council.

Not only are the elk causing significant damage when they hop fences to steal feed or mingle with livestock.

They also do substantial damage to crops, he said.

Blumenschein said he knows another farmer who has spent more on repairing fencing than he has in his life savings.

Johnstone said they lost 35 per cent of their total crop yield because of elk damage to their fields last year.

“I am not looking forward to seeing how it will affect us this year,” she said.

Blumenschein said opening up an elk hunt to all hunters – including farmers – would be an effective deterrent.

You don’t have to shoot the whole herd, he said. Once the elk catch on to the additional hunting pressure, they’ll move on, and the problem will be reduced, he suggested.

Another farmer he knows lost 20 per cent of his crops, and after installing game fencing, he still has to redo his fields. The whole affair probably cost him $250,000, including lost crops, Blumenschein said.

Johnstone said they board high-end horses that to be relocated to another boarding facility out of fear the elk could cause injuries to the horses.

The farmers are unanimous in their message. They’re tired of losing money because of elk damage, they’re tired of fixing fences, they’re tired of losing crops and they’re tired of the damage to their fields.

The elk start showing up in the fall and can stay around all winter.

It’s generally accepted the animals paw through the snow to the ground to dig up roots. The foraging kills the patch of grass and creates bare spots which will start to grow weeds when the growing season returns.

Dev Hurlburt of the Horse Haven ranch off the Alaska Highway recalled how he had installed eight-foot game fencing, under the supervision of the government.

A group of some 75 elk walked right through it this past winter, and kept coming back until conflict hunters shot a number of the elk.

Yvette Choma and her husband, Hank Sippel, of the 37 Mile Ranch, know all too well the elk struggle.

Sippel said every day for two months over the winter, he had to mend fencing damaged by the elk to keep his horses in. It wasn’t much fun in -30 C temperatures, he said.

The corral for their miniature horses is surround by sturdy fencing made of 2 x 6 lumber.

Sippel said when the elk want to get in, they’ll jump in and can take out a section of the 2 x 6 fencing without a problem.

Elsewhere, there’s mended barbed wire fence everywhere, and tufts of elk hair can still be seen on the fencing.

“They just run through the fence,” said Sipple. “It’s really disheartening.”

Choma recalled how 10 or 15 elk got into the horse corral and devoured an 800-pound bail of hay in just eight hours.

Under current policy, Takhini Valley farmers can call on conflict hunters to come out and hunt problem elk, though it’s a process. A list of conflict hunters, who are regular licensed hunters, is maintained by Environment Yukon.

But the elk aren’t always there when the hunters arrive, or the elk switch to night-time raids.

There are the short daylight hours in the winter. There’s also the general concern about having strangers hunting within a kilometre of the home.

There is compensation available for fence damage and crop loss but there is general agreement it doesn’t cover anywhere near the amount of financial loss farmers suffer.

There were suggestions that perhaps the government should put up seven-foot game fencing around affected farms. The government should maintain ownership of the fencing and pay contractors or the farmers to maintain it, it was suggested.

The elk, after all, were transplanted here by the government. They are the government’s responsibility, it was generally agreed.

“I think if you are going to do a project, you have to be responsible for them,” said Sippel.

“When it is a transplanted species, that is another story,” added Choma.

Blumenschein said it’s been estimated it would cost the government $6 million to install game fencing on the 23 farms affected by the elk.

Another $3 million for fencing the farms not currently affected would be required, as once the elk get locked out of the farms they bother, they’ll look elsewhere, he said.

Blumenschein said another $3 million would be required to repair the field damage.

The government decided last year to conduct a two-year herd reduction, with a goal of removing 40 per cent or 85 elk from the Tahkini herd.

Elk harvest numbers on record from last year show a total mortality of 47 elk inside the Takhini Valley.

Of the total, four were shot inside the valley by licensed hunters with permit hunt authorizations

There were a couple of road kills. The vast majority, 30, were shot by conflict hunters.

The herd reduction proposal is now in its second year.

But Blumenschein pointed out killing the 85 elk would not reduce the herd by 40 per cent because it doesn’t take into account the number of calves born every year.

Having an open season in the Takhini Valley would be the most effective way of facing the elk issue, he believes.

As one farmer put it, it’s like the hunt for the transplanted bison.

When the bison hunt opened up in the late 1990s, hunters on snow machines could approach the bison without driving them off.

The animals didn’t have the fear of the unknown; they didn’t know the sound of approaching snow machines was the sound of danger.

It doesn’t work that way anymore, as the bison have wised up and they know the sound of approaching snowmachines means trouble.

It would be the same effect on elk if there was a hunting season, the farmer believes.

But the acting director of fish and wildlife for Environment Yukon pointed out the bison hunt occurs in the wilderness, not in close proximity to populated areas.

Karen Clyde said the focus right now is on the two-year plan to reduce the herd through the conflict hunts. Once it’s done, they’ll assess its impact, she said.

“It is complicated because we are working around people’s houses,” she said.

Comments (31)

Up 1 Down 0

Léona Watson on Jun 11, 2021 at 10:44 pm

Firstly, I think it’s hilarious how people think farmers are rich!
Secondly, the Yukon has so much land that could be developed for housing and farming. And there’s still tons of land for elk and the rest of wildlife to live on, in the wilderness not in our backyards.
Sometimes I think the world has lost a bit of common sense.

Up 8 Down 0

Yukon Justice on Jun 10, 2021 at 4:54 pm

Why does everything have to become a screw-up?

Up 2 Down 5

Spud on Jun 10, 2021 at 10:31 am

Time to scare them off. How about open season for bow hunting and separate times for hunting with shot guns. Perhaps farmers could use some of their bales to construct hunting blinds. High powered Rifles are a too much of a human accidental threat. The bison control on Yukon Highways seems to be an excellent program.

Up 7 Down 5

Tin Roof on Jun 9, 2021 at 4:31 pm

@Terry wilkinson

BISON. Buffalo are not native to North America, Bison are.

Up 8 Down 1

Terry wilkinson on Jun 9, 2021 at 2:04 pm

Comments on two scenarios. Buffalo near Whitehorse are shot when they come close to the highway, so you very seldom see them. South of Watson lake they are not and you always see them along the highway. Whitehorse Buffalo herd 1500 plus, Watson lake less than 400. Maybe we have done something wrong

Up 3 Down 1

Groucho d'North on Jun 8, 2021 at 9:48 am

@Jose.
Elk are also know as wapiti a Shawnee word meaning "White Rump" so you are not wrong.

Up 14 Down 21

Cull the herd. on Jun 7, 2021 at 9:57 pm

Cull the herd and use the meat to feed the citizens at Whitehorse Correctional. Lots of thumbs down coming my way, but it is a sensible solution.

Up 6 Down 17

Animal Farm indeed... Yo Orwell, got your mask? on Jun 7, 2021 at 5:43 pm

@ Yt - Hypocritical Cons eh... Maskless Kate seems pretty hypocritical too. Rather than support the Liberals through mere words to shore up her own sense of self importance she could show actual support by showing her commitment to the doctrine of masks. Or maybe she is communicating self-awareness and does not want to mask the problem with current government.

Where are the Covid fines? They ain’t 2 metres apart. WTF! Hypocrites!!!

Up 16 Down 8

BnR on Jun 7, 2021 at 5:31 pm

John wrote: "Hope you enjoy your next meal, all courtesy of farmers. Oh, and you are welcome."
The farmers complain all grow hay. That's their crop. Feel free to dig in to a nice heaping pile of hay.

Up 13 Down 23

John on Jun 7, 2021 at 2:21 pm

@ Houses not farms
Hope you enjoy your next meal, all courtesy of farmers. Oh, and you are welcome.

Up 29 Down 27

Houses not farms on Jun 7, 2021 at 11:39 am

Am I going to shed a tear for rich farmers with lots of land and million dollar homes because the elk are costing them time and money?
No.
Honestly, with the housing crunch in Whitehorse, all that property out Takhini Hot Springs Road would be better utilized subdivided up for housing rather than hobby "farmers."
Housing is a priority issue. Subsidizing marginal farms in the Yukon owned by people with well paying day jobs should not be.

Up 18 Down 1

DA on Jun 7, 2021 at 10:13 am

I can certainly understand why the farmers are frustrated.

Were the farms created before or after 1989? If before, then I feel the government should - within reason - be accountable for this problem and willing to brainstorm solutions with the farmers.

Could the elk be relocated to another area of the Yukon (away from farms)? I have no idea if this is viable, given there are 200+ animals in the herd. An open hunt could be effective, although I wonder if this could potentially wipe out the herd.

Up 32 Down 7

yukongirl on Jun 7, 2021 at 8:40 am

I'm sorry but buyer beware. If you knew that grain farms were having elk issues and you still bought the land, it's on you to improve your barriers. Anyone who had their land prior to the introduction of the elk, that's different.

Up 16 Down 2

Groucho d'North on Jun 6, 2021 at 6:52 pm

What impact are the elk having on indigenous species like Woodland Caribou and moose? You can bet they are having a greater impact than the damages to local farm crops, but there are often both pros and cons in these matters. Are the grizzlies eating better because of the elk? Is their grazing and browsing have a negative or positive impact to wild vegatation? If this data exists it should provide some solid reasons to reduce their numbers or their ranges...or not.

Up 13 Down 3

Groucho d'North on Jun 6, 2021 at 6:41 pm

@Bandit
You may want to brush up on your elk -& other wildlife- history. I recommend Murray Lundberg's devotion to local history for the details: https://explorenorth.com/library/history/elk-yukon-1951.html

A very good read and well researched book is Yukon's Hunting History by Manfred Hoefs.
Another I enjoyed and learned a great deal from is: Part of the Land, Part of the Water: A History of the Yukon Indians. by Catharine McClellan and a cadre of fellow authors.
Check out the Yukon section in Mac's for even more great reads about where we live and who else lives here.

Up 26 Down 16

Yt on Jun 6, 2021 at 6:40 pm

The Yukon party had years to deal with this when they were in power, but NOW it’s a big issue.
What a bunch of hypocrites.

Up 22 Down 1

Crunch on Jun 6, 2021 at 5:42 pm

The first elk were brought into the Yukon in the late 50's. So the 70 number is much closer than 32. Difficult political issue as the animals are loved by many and hated by very few.

Up 36 Down 10

BnR on Jun 6, 2021 at 5:30 pm

“Farmers.....”
3 farmers. And all they’re growing is hay for other wealthy land owners horses.
What a crock. Unless you’re growing crops for human consumption, you ain’t farming. And isn’t the Johnstone noted in the article a conservation officer for the Yukon gov? How does that work out?

Up 9 Down 6

John on Jun 6, 2021 at 1:43 pm

It appears that due diligence was not performed regarding the environmental impact in the area. So the question arises who occupied the area first ? Were the elk brought in before the release of agriculture lands, or, was it the opposite? I ask because the EI analysis was evidently not thorough. In either of the cases it should have noted as to future affect(s) on either party. When you do a sloppy job at the front end this is how we end up with the mess we have now.

In either case the Government must shoulder the responsibility for the fall out. Whatever the outcome I would hope we could see a compromise that is a win-win for both the elk and the land holders.

Up 25 Down 15

Bandit on Jun 6, 2021 at 10:21 am

@Joshua Johnson,
You need to brush up on your math skills, the Elk were transplanted here in 1989 so in my calculation that equates to 32 years not 70. Secondly, why not have an open Bow hunt if the close proximity to homes is a concern?

Up 20 Down 22

North_of_60 on Jun 5, 2021 at 10:59 pm

The government must choose one or the other:
► permit farmers and their designated guests to harvest a specific number of elk on their lands,
OR
► compensate farmers for the damage caused by the failure of the government elk management policies.

Up 16 Down 13

Josey Wales on Jun 5, 2021 at 1:27 pm

But...but...I thought Diversity was our strength?
Man I thought it tough being white these days.
Seems the elk are working on getting canceled?
Come up with another fake government campaign wailing decrees of racism within that herd...they will be eradicated.

Put safety vests on them, armed with elk cams, call them the Karen herd and they can serve like highway cams, free breather alert system to be trained to stampede in a fit of panic adding to the state sanctioned chaos theatre.
Sure seems completely ridiculous, but so too is this political THEATRE we have been actors in for just....these...two weeks...
We are all in this together, unless you’re an elk?

Up 23 Down 25

John on Jun 5, 2021 at 10:03 am

This is a tough one. On one hand you want the elk to do well but farms are suffering due to their presence.
Rather than killing the elk perhaps other deterrents should be considered first. If the Yukon government wants to promote farming they should help with the cost.

Up 20 Down 12

JT on Jun 5, 2021 at 8:33 am

Tough being a farmer and having to deal with an introduced species that is so costly to tolerate. Are Elk endangered at all in their native range? I know in New Zealand the problematic introduced species are always fair game for hunters.

Up 15 Down 13

Perry Cobb on Jun 5, 2021 at 8:30 am

Load them up bring them to Ontário.

Up 42 Down 14

Joshua Johnson on Jun 5, 2021 at 7:47 am

An open hunt will do nothing but wipe out the elk here for good. They are not as tough or enduring an animal as the bison this far north and their winter range is extremely limited, which is why their population has barely increased in the 70 years they have been here. Additionally they are coming off the worst winter on record with a massive amount of natural mortality. This is also why there was an increase in farmer conflict this past winter as the elk were forced to forage for easier food sources.
The current reduction plan will also do nothing but help bring the elk herd down to an unsustainable level. Why does Environment not implement diversionary feeding tactics? Or habitat enhancement projects to increase their limited winter range? Methods that are used regularly in other jurisdictions where both the elk and farmers win. This conflict is not new and has been played out from Saskatchewan to BC. Anywhere there is elk and agriculture. The elk precede almost all of the very limited amount of agriculture here in the Yukon, so in my opinion there is little justification for wiping out a species to appease the Yukon’s 10 farmers who take issue with them.

Up 58 Down 9

Moose102 on Jun 5, 2021 at 7:18 am

Who was here first in the 80s there was two ranches on the Alaska highway Bill Drury and the one out by Kusawa lake road. Elk were transplanted here long before the vast majority of these farmers even applied for all this free land.,I have family in rural Alberta and when I visit I regularly see Elk And deer in the farmers fields munching on bales of hay or what ever happens to be growing. Never seen any politicians standing around looking at giving them 12 million of dollars .

Up 30 Down 21

Leona Watson on Jun 4, 2021 at 10:56 pm

I am one of the farmers who deal most with elk year round and 6 years ago, when I moved here I was optimistic that the government would do the right thing. Since then, I have lost faith in the government's ability to do something impactful and end this problem once and for all. I'll continue to volunteer my time and fight for the cause, however it's getting harder every year when a person loses money, time, strength and heart!

Up 40 Down 26

Dave on Jun 4, 2021 at 7:17 pm

It's pretty sad when you need to kill wild animals because they're hopping fences to hang out with your domesticated stock - the Horror...
The world needs more wild animals, so sad that Whitehorse just wants to kill them and put them in the freezer.

Up 12 Down 22

Patti Eyre on Jun 4, 2021 at 6:18 pm

There ya go, poach them and problem solved!

Up 35 Down 14

Vern Schlimbesser on Jun 4, 2021 at 4:31 pm

What can you say, they are right.
(But such a simple solution does nothing for the biologists and bureaucrats, so don't expect it to go this way. Once another administrator or two are hired and a new monitoring regime designed and implemented will progress be made.)

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