Photo by Whitehorse Star
Environment Minister Nils Clarke
Photo by Whitehorse Star
Environment Minister Nils Clarke
In the spring, the Department of Environment caused a stir amongst outfitters, and the opposition, when it moved to change hunting quotas across the territory.
Now, the Environment minister might be backtracking.
Or maybe not.
Last March, the Department of Environment signalled it would limit hunting quotas for outfitters to single-year allotments, instead of the multi-year system that’s been in place for decades.
Essentially, outfitters would receive the number of a given species they could hunt in their concession, or allotted hunting area, each year.
Previously, that quota was issued for a number of years, allowing outfitters to know the number of a particular big game species they’re allowed to harvest over a longer period of time.
Minister Nils Clarke told reporters last spring his department had received legal advice that multi-year quotas are in conflict with the territory’s Wildlife Act, and changes were coming.
The Yukon Party attacked the proposed change during the spring, saying outfitters rely on advance sales of hunts, and an annual quota would be too restrictive for their businesses.
On Tuesday, the opposition renewed its criticisms. But Clarke told media the department is changing course, and hunting quotas will be staying more or less the same going forward.
“It will be status quo, or very close to status quo, unless conservation measures are clearly indicated,” he told reporters.
But a closer look at his comments suggests hunting quotas are still changing from the model that’s existed in harmony with the Wildlife Act for 25 years.
“My legal advice is that although multi-year and overharvest quotas do not comply with the Wildlife Act, the Department of Environment had worked with outfitters to establish an alternative approach,” he continued.
“This approach is based on multi-year sustainability and recent harvest levels to provide certainty and predictability to outfitters, similar to what they had in the past.
“So it’s not a strict multi-year quota, but based on the data we have with respect to the recent years, they’ve been provided quotas.”
Boiled down, Clarke said his legal advice still shows multi-year hunting quotas are in breach of the Wildlife Act. That means the old system is gone. He said the new system will resemble that old system closely.
The only big change, he added later, will be the introduction of hunting quotas to four outfitting concessions that had been operating without them.
But new quotas are already in place for all 20 outfitting concessions. And they use the single-year model the department had indicated it was moving to last spring.
Clarke suggested a compromise had been reached by basing those quotas off population and harvest averages from previous years.
These averages, he said, would allow outfitters to predict quotas for the future and conduct business beyond the limits of their single-year permits.
The only big change, Clarke said, was that four outfitting concessions that had previously existed without hunting quotas would now be operating with them.
Aaron Florian is an executive at the Yukon Outfitters Association, and operates his own outfitting business.
He said this morning the Department of Environment has not communicated anything to Yukon outfitters that would suggest hunting quotas will resemble the decades-old multi-year model.
He said the new model of hunting quotas is in place now, and though they’re based on averages, they are issued on a one-year basis.
Speaking to the Star, Florian called quotas the “lifeblood” of the outfitting industry. He acknowledged the need for quotas in the territory to ensure long-term hunting, but said a single-year system is tough on business.
He has a backlog of clients booked into 2025, and hopes to book more at an upcoming conference.
But he’s now unsure how many more clients he’ll be able to book, or how much of his backlog he’ll be able to clear, once his current quota ends. It makes it difficult to sell hunts far in advance, he said.
This was the basis of the criticisms lobbed at Clarke during question period on Tuesday.
Wade Istchenko, the Yukon Party MLA for Kluane, asked about hunting quotas last week, and repeated his attacks on the new government system.
“The new process that this minister has created is causing havoc in this industry,” Istchenko said.
The changes have led to an unprecedented number of quota appeals from outfitters, he addded.
“Does this surge in appeals from the local outfitters raise any concern with the minister about what impact his flawed approach is having on this historic industry?” Istchenko asked.
Clarke’s response received a rowdy reaction from the opposition.
He said four quota appeals were from outfitting concessions that had been operating without quotas for moose or caribou, and said in the past they’d had “no regulations whatsoever.”
Several Yukon Party MLAs disrupted Clarke’s response, with one opposition member saying Clarke didn’t know what he was talking about.
Government House Leader John Streicker called for a point of order, and Speaker Jeremy Harper told legislators to “civilize your comments.”
Clarke later told reporters he had misspoken. He’d meant to say the four concessions had been operating without quotas, not without regulations.
He also said eight outfitting concessions had appealed their quotas this year. He said a ninth appeal had been withdrawn, and four of the current appeals were from the aforementioned concessions that had never operated with hunting quotas.
After the interruption, Clarke concluded his response.
“As part of the review of the quota allocation process, the Department of Environment worked with outfitters to place all outfitters on quotas this year,” he told the legislature.
“Quotas are set to ensure that the wildlife harvest remains at sustainable levels, considering wildlife conservation, Indigenous subsistence harvest rights, and resident and non-resident hunter issues.
“Establishing outfitter quotas, in some instances, for the first time, is a complex process that requires balancing the rights and interests of outfitters, Yukon First Nations, and renewable resources councils. We will do this hard work, and we will get it done,” Clarke said.
Istchenko had called for the minister to “ensure that wildlife management decisions are data-driven,” suggesting the recent changes are arbitrary and harmful to outfitters.
Clarke further said in question period the old quota model was outdated, being implemented prior to a number of First Nations final agreements.
Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon told reporters the government should have engaged more with the outfitting industry before making any changes that could hurt their business.
He also wondered why Clarke thought the quotas are outdated or are in conflict with current legislation.
“Successive governments from the mid-’90s to now have always used these (quota) guidelines,” Dixon said. “It certainly has never been interpreted that it was inconsistent with the Wildlife Act.”
He called the implementation of new quotas “a blanket imposition of quotas simply for the sake of having quotas.
“I don’t think there’s any outfitter out there that would say that if there’s a scientific need for a quota to reduce the amount of harvest, they don’t mind having that,” he said. “So if there’s a data-driven imperative for the imposition of a quota, I don’t think outfitters would object to it.”
He says data do not back up the recent quota changes, though.
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