Whitehorse Daily Star

Image title

Photo by Photo Submitted

PURSUING A BAN – Members of Grizzly Bear Protection Yukon pose for a photograph. From left to right are Sue Greetham, Linara Yarulina, Uli Nowlan, Melaine Fillion and Lea Bayliss.

Grizzly hunt issue inspires impassioned opinions

Living out in Kettley Canyon and having the remnants of a salmon-smoking operation on her property, Sue Greetham’s land has become a regular stop-off for grizzly bears making their way in and out of the mountains.

By Mark Page on November 3, 2023

Living out in Kettley Canyon and having the remnants of a salmon-smoking operation on her property, Sue Greetham’s land has become a regular stop-off for grizzly bears making their way in and out of the mountains.

She ends up recognizing some of these bears year-after-year as they pass through, eventually becoming a bit fond of certain individuals.

This was the case with a big golden grizzly she called Charlie.

Charlie came by every season for three years in a row and Greetham, along with her neighbours, grew to like seeing and talking about Charlie.

Then Charlie disappeared.

“And I was concerned and thought, ‘oh my gosh, Isn’t that odd?’” Greetham said in an interview with the Star Thursday.

“And I’m starting to ask questions and talk to people – ‘have you seen him?’

“They said, ‘oh, he got shot right out in front of your place.’”

So, Greetham decided to take action.

First, she lobbied the nearby Carcross/Tagish First Nation to ban roadside hunting for grizzly bears in their territory.

After that success, she founded Grizzly Bear Protection Yukon to continue the effort.

It’s now four years later, and they’ve gathered almost 1,000 signatures on a petition to ban grizzly bear “trophy” hunting altogether and to ban grizzly bear hunting from roadsides everywhere in the Yukon.

They’ve also put the petition on change.org allowing for people all over the world to sign, and have gathered more than 37,000 signatures on this online version.

Her petition was presented to the Yukon legislature last week by NDP MLA Annie Blake, along with a motion calling for the bans.

Hunting for grizzly bears is legal in the Yukon, as is hunting from vehicles.

According to the management plans relied on by the Yukon government for policy decisions, the population of grizzlies in the territory is stable and can handle the harvest.

The population estimates used in these plans – from information that is over 30 years old – say there are about 6,000 to 7,000 grizzlies in the territory.

Greetham and her group counter that these numbers are too old, and should not be used as a measure.

Last year, 2,427 hunting tags were sold, though only 56 animals were killed by hunters.

Advocates for continued hunting say these numbers are sustainable and actually keep the population from growing too large.

Bryce Bekar, the president of the Yukon Fish & Game Association, weighed in, telling the Star he also disputes the characterization of grizzly bear hunting in the Yukon as “trophy hunting”.

Though he may keep part of the animal as a memento, the meat gets eaten.

“Some of the best meat I’ve ever eaten is grizzly bear meat,” Bekar said.

Looking at the number of hunting tags sold versus the number used, the ratio for grizzlies is unusual, and Bekar says it’s because people often buy the tags so they can defend an elk or other animal they are hunting after they have shot it, so it doesn’t get taken by a bear.

To be able to shoot a grizzly in a scenario like this and not risk getting in trouble from conservation officers, Bekar says hunters should have one of these tags.

He also reckons many older Yukoners who get free seniors’ hunting tags are taking up some of the permits just because they can.

Allowing for older hunters to still be able to harvest animals is a primary why his group advocates for hunters to continue to be allowed to shoot from roadsides, Bekar said.

“I’m 45 years old, I’m quite healthy, I can go out and do stuff, but we’ve got an aging population where some of our members are very old,” Bekar said.

“Roadside hunting offers them the opportunity to still harvest an animal.”

Bekar says his group has been dedicated to conservation for more than 70 years, and that the petition and resulting motion are not based on the facts.

But for others, grizzly bears are an iconic species that elicit an emotional response. And they have deep cultural value to Indigenous people in the Yukon.

The MLA who introduced the motion is from Old Crow and a citizen of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation.

For Blake and her family, the animals have cultural and spiritual value.

“My grandfather told me when I was a kid to always respect the bear,” she told reporters at the legislature while explaining why she wanted to introduce the motion.

“You don’t eat it; it’s more of that spiritual connection and it’s like a guide for my life.”

This may not be the view of all Indigenous people in the Yukon, Blake acknowledged, but it is the view of her family.

Her outlook also stems from her own personal experiences with bears.

“I had a close encounter in Old Crow a couple years ago with a grizzly bear and two cubs, and I think I’ve learned not only to respect the animal for its being, but also respecting its significance or message that it’s giving me and my personal journey,” Blake said.

John Ryder, the Yukon’s fish and wildlife branch’s acting director, told the Star they have balanced Indigenous perspectives with those of hunters in the grizzly bear management plan they are using to make hunting harvest decisions.

“It’s important to note that we were well aware that the grizzly bears have great intrinsic and aesthetic and spiritual value to Yukoners,” Ryder said.

“And we also heard loud and clear in the 2019 management plan that there’s also an importance to Yukon residents for bear harvest.”

The management plan came about through a process that involved many partners with differing outlooks, explains Ryder, and was a “nonpartisan and objective” process.

This involved representatives of both government and First Nations, as well as hunting outfitters, local non-profits and other associations. They also did public engagement and surveys.

“So, it’s informed by broad engagement with a variety of groups,” Ryder said.

“And the plan really helps us ensure grizzly bear populations remain healthy and viable throughout the Yukon.”

The plan was eventually signed off by Pauline Frost, the former Liberal minister of Environment from Old Crow, who is currently chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin.

The outcome was that they determined hunting for grizzlies is currently a sustainable practice in the Yukon and the population of grizzly bears here is stable.

This is despite population estimates being from work conducted in the 1980s and ’90s – a main criticism of the management plan by Greetham’s group.

One of the central arguments Greetham and her group are making is that before hunting should be allowed, a new, more accurate count needs to be done.

She said other places such as B.C. and Alberta have been able to do this using a more modern, scientific approach.

“We’re not quite meeting that mark,” Greetham said.

But Ryder contends some more recent work by biologists does confim the old counts.

“We have been basing the numbers we have on more recent work and current estimates are that bear populations appear stable in the territory and we don’t have the information to suggest otherwise,” Ryder said.

Because the grizzly population is healthy in the Yukon but is in decline in much of the rest of Canada and the United States, it is hard for conservationists to develop a unified viewpoint on what management in the territory should look like, says the Yukon Conservation Society’s Sebastian Jones.

Officially, the conservation society is opposed to hunting of grizzly bears and their platform is essentially the same as Greetham’s, but Jones said that while some of their members feel very strongly supportive of that position, others are okay with the current status quo.

“We definitely have members who would like to see a total end to grizzly bear harvest in the Yukon,” Jones told the Star.

“And we have members who are quite content with the status right now. So, it’s kind of all over the place.”

Jones did say that from recent surveying efforts and DNA testing he is aware of, the old population estimates from the 1980s and ’90s are likely still close to accurate.

“From what I can gather, it’s probably not a bad estimate,” Jones said. “But, yeah, we don’t know the exact number.”

The real question, according to Jones, is whether these population estimates matter. It may be more important to ask if they need to be worried about the overall impact of the number of bears killed in the hunts.

“From a scientific or biological perspective, I don’t think that that’s a big concern,” he said.

“There’s not a tremendous number of grizzly bears killed in the Yukon every year.”

But where the Grizzly Bear Preservation Society and some members of the conservation society are coming from, the protection of the species goes beyond simply whether hunting is sustainable.

“The thing about grizzly bears is that it’s a lot more than just the science,” Jones said.

“It’s a really difficult topic for conservation and environmental organization like YCS to address because it’s not just biology; it’s also our perspective towards them.”

Comments (12)

Up 29 Down 19

Thatsnotright on Nov 9, 2023 at 12:07 am

Sorry Yukon Hunter, I have to call you on the. Loving bears sooo much, you have to kill them. That the Yukon still allows a spring bear hunt shows just how far behind the times we truly are. Anyone that hunts so they can eat, not a problem. Those that hunt for so called sport, are from a different species of human as far as I am concerned. With humans multiplying at a astonding rate, we need to reconsider our relationship with animals or soon we won't have any, period.

Up 26 Down 28

Yukon Hunter on Nov 8, 2023 at 1:47 pm

I think people are confusing the idea of "roadside hunting"
with "lazy hunting".
Hunting bears off of roadways is not about laziness, it's about effectiveness. The bears are concentrated along roadsides in spring because they are attracted to new grass shoots and roots growing in the ditches. They are also concentrated along hillsides. People hunt along the roadways because thats where the bears are. If the bears were down along the rivers, or high up in the alpine, thats where hunters would go.
Hunting bears any other way is basically just wandering around in the bush aimlessly.
On an average spring bear hunt I may put as many as 1500kms on my truck looking for the right bear. I don't consider that lazy. It takes a lot of time and effort. It also affords me the oportunity to be more selective in my harvest.
One thing I've discovered in my years of hunting, is that the people stopping for 10 minutes harassing a bear for 100 pictures are doing more damage to the bear than the hunters. Habituating them to humans, to traffic. Whistling at them to turn their head just so they can get Facebook pictures.
I think folks who label roadside bear hunting as lazy are either people who know nothing about bear behavior's, or they are overexaggerating to intentionally paint a false narrative.
Also, as a Yukon hunter who has spent countless amounts of time in the wilderness, much of that time observing bears, I can say without an ounce of doubt in my mind that myself, and other hunters like myself have a much greater understanding and love for grizzlies and all other creatures, than any special interest groups could ever hope to have.
Hunters are the oldest, most passionate and knowledgeable conservationists left on this planet. Hunters donate money, time, information, samples all in an effort to protect and conserve animals. If a population was suffering hunters would be the first to know, and the first to call for protection.
If the Grizzly Bear society truly wants to help the grizzlies, go buy yourself a hunting licence and a grizzly tag and consider that a donation to grizzly conservation. Put your money where your mouths are and leave the bears and the hunters alone.

Up 26 Down 17

Groucho d'North on Nov 7, 2023 at 4:02 pm

Speaking as a senior, I do not support roadside hunting for any species. Its not hunting - its killing and there is a difference. If the gov wants to help we old codgers to put meat in the freezer, open mule deer harvesting the same as moose. The current permit draw is for only ten animals while many times that many are killed on the roads each year.
As for the bears it is either a matter of science/biology to confirm a healthy sustainable population, or it is about feelings and I suspect the global petition will yeild many caring people to sign in support - they have no skin in the game so similar to previous international petitions, many will sign their support because its the politicaly-correct thing to do.

Up 34 Down 20

True Yukoner on Nov 7, 2023 at 2:42 pm

The second last sentence in this article is exactly right, but not what Jones intended. "The thing about grizzly is that its a lot more than just science" Yes, just admit it out loud, it's about your emotions. Your personal feelings. You don't like it. we get it.
I'm assuming no one in this Grizzly Protection group has ever gone grizzly hunting. So in reality that aren't opposed to grizzly hunting, they are opposed to the IDEA of grizzly hunting. God help all Yukoners if one group that's not physically affected by another groups activity, and has never actually done the activity, can have the power to shut down the activity simply because they don't like the idea of it. No science, no numbers, nothing rational.. just emotions.
We can see how terribly that's turned when they banned grizzly hunting in BC..
Hopefully there are still enough rational and realistic people working for Department of Environment to still base hunting activities around things like harvest rates, sustainability, predator control, traditional harvesting etc. and not give in to specialized groups who can't separate their emotions from fact.

Up 39 Down 28

Brian Melanson on Nov 7, 2023 at 6:12 am

I wish we had the energy to not only provide for our families, spend time with friends and work full time jobs. But also to keep up with the silverbacks who have all the time in the world to spread their hate.
This idea of Trophy hunting is antiquated. No one is rolling along and shooting animals and only taking the hide. And if that’s the case, then They are poachers and it’s illegal to begin with.
Allow road side hunting to keep people out of the bush and reduce the Vehicle/animal accidents.
Promote ungulate populations by harvesting a bear.

Up 41 Down 15

At home in the Yukon on Nov 6, 2023 at 8:03 pm

Just Sayin makes a very valid point. For our protection, grizzly bears do need to fear our guns.

Up 28 Down 41

stephen on Nov 6, 2023 at 3:30 pm

Leave the bears alone. Its mostly Euopean's who eat bears. I find the European way of thinking sad. You have wiped out most of your wild population in Europe. Don't need that mentality here. Just saying, you do know of the rabbit cycle right? Its a 7 year cycle and that cycle affects fox and bob cats. What happens to them when their are fewer rabbits? The same would go with bears.

I have no liking for outfitters. Its glorified hunting. Time to let outfitting go the way of the dodo bird.

Up 48 Down 22

Just sayin on Nov 6, 2023 at 9:13 am

I agree hunting off the highway right away is not hunting and can be dangerous.

However, I suggest Sue speak with the outfitters in the NWT, where grizzly bear hunting is illegal. The bears are now conditioned to come to the sound of gunfire as it means there is a fresh kill. I do not want the Yukon to become like that. I want the bears to be fearful of gunshots and leave me alone.

As well, Grizzly bears harm the ungulate population and have limited predators. What will they do when the ungulate population declines due to all the predation, even from Humans?

Up 17 Down 0

Bob Graham on Nov 5, 2023 at 11:54 am

Always remember as a kid, I lived in the Army Base & our backyard faced the Alaska Highway. Us kids would travel across the Highway & work our way up the escarment to the Old Deserted Copper mines. Inside one of the mines was a huge dead Grizzly Bear perfectly preserved. Must have died hibernating?Alaska just turn a State & we used to put a sign along the side of the highway & American Visitors to their new State would stop for a Mine Tour & visit the huge forever sleeping Grizzly.

Up 7 Down 17

Nathan Living on Nov 4, 2023 at 12:44 pm

The perspectives expressed by all parties in this article were stellar.

I really enjoyed reading this

Up 6 Down 20

Wilf Carter on Nov 4, 2023 at 10:18 am

Great piece star nailed.

Up 40 Down 19

Dallas on Nov 3, 2023 at 6:24 pm

Why even mention 37000 people who don’t live here…maybe we should ban people from owning pets in the city limits unless they have large yards for them to run in and make it mandatory to declaw cats so they can’t kill birds,dogs to wear diapers and be on a leash everywhere but in their yards,it’s getting stupid what some people want ..ps Sue are they attracted to your yard because of poor garbage management???

Add your comments or reply via Twitter @whitehorsestar

In order to encourage thoughtful and responsible discussion, website comments will not be visible until a moderator approves them. Please add comments judiciously and refrain from maligning any individual or institution. Read about our user comment and privacy policies.

Your name and email address are required before your comment is posted. Otherwise, your comment will not be posted.