Situation in Yukon

Grizzly bears are difficult to count—especially in an area as remote as the Yukon—so there have been few field studies on their abundance in the territory.

The number of grizzly bears in Yukon is estimated at 6,000–7,000 bears; however, the number is unknown. This estimate was derived in the 1990s based on biologists’ understanding of how many grizzly bears could be supported in various regions of the Yukon. 

A public survey was conducted 2018 by the YFWMB/Dept. of Env to find out beliefs and perceptions of Yukoners on GB. 
Outcome: Yukoners value grizzly bears and don’t want them killed. 

Summary report of Licensed Harvest Trends in Yukon from 1980 to 2014 for Grizzly bears

Written in 2018 by the Yukon Department of Environment

Grizzly bears are currently managed by bear management units, which are generally defined by outfitting concession boundaries.

In 1991, grizzly bear populations in western Canada, including Yukon, were assessed as a species of special concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

This did not influence the changes to hunting regulations over the years towards the conservation of Grizzly bears. In fact, changes were made that include varying season dates and bag limits from one grizzly bear per lifetime (for non-residents) to one grizzly bear every one to five licence years.

Also, the season length was extended, and bag limits were increased in the Southern Lakes region from 1984 to 2001 to support a moose recovery initiative. This initiative was not based on scientific data proving that grizzly bears were causing moose populations to diminish. These bag limits remain the same today even though now Grizzly bears are listed under SARA and no study has shown that grizzly bears are big predators of moose in the Southern Lake region.

Licensed hunting was closed for cubs and sows with cubs in 1975. A cub includes any bear that is less than three years old.

Hunters by year:

On average, licensed hunters purchased 995 grizzly bear seals each year. But when you compare the number of grizzly bear seals purchased in 1980 versus 2014, this is alarming. In 1980, licensed hunters purchased a little bit over 600 grizzly bear seals while 1700 grizzly bear seals were purchased in 2014. The number of obtained seals almost tripled in 34 years.

Sixty-four percent (64%) of those seals were obtained by resident hunters. Based on the 2013 hunter effort survey, 25% of resident hunters with a grizzly bear seal planned to hunt grizzly bears and the remaining 75% obtained a seal in case there was a conflict with a bear.

Harvest by year:

On average, 76 grizzly bears were harvested annually; 26 (34%) by resident hunters and 50 (66%) by non-resident hunters. Reported cases of bears killed in defence of life and property are not included in this summary; however, some harvest may be attributed to defence of life and property. Grizzly bear harvest was highest in the late 1980s and has been declining.

Harvest success rate:

On average, 4% of resident hunters and 15% of non-resident hunters with a grizzly bear seal were successful in harvesting a grizzly bear. The success rate of resident hunters declined slightly from 7% in the early 1980’s to 2% in the early 2010’s. The success rate of non-resident hunters declined from 22% in the early 1980s to 9% in the early 2010s. Is it because there are less grizzly bears to hunt?

Harvest composition:

Most grizzly bear harvest occurred during the fall season. Hunters are encouraged to hunt male bears and 99% of hunters say they preferred to harvest male bears based on the 2013 hunter effort survey. Over all years, 34% of harvested grizzly bears were female. This is a high percentage that might affect the sustainability of a population.

Harvest by game management zone:

From 2005 to 2014, between 0 and 0.6 grizzly bears were harvested annually for every 1,000 km2. Most of the licensed grizzly bear harvest occurred in bear management units in southwest and central Yukon. From 1980 to 2014, game management zone 5 north of Haines Junction and Kluane Lake had a reduction in grizzly bear harvest.

Under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, Inuvialuit beneficiaries exercise their harvest rights for grizzly bears on the Yukon North Slope. The grizzly bear harvest is by quota and permits are administered by the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee.

Figures below show the number of grizzly bears harvested by game management zone (GMZ) from 1980 to 2014. Note that zone 6 is not shown because it is closed to grizzly bear hunting:

Threats to grizzly bear populations are varied; however, as a habitat and diet generalist, grizzly bears can persist at a variety of environmentally determined densities in the absence of additive mortality by humans. While seasonal food availability and intra-specific competition may be important natural limiting factors to population growth for regional grizzly bear populations, the main anthropogenic threat to grizzly bear populations is human presence on the landscape. The human incursion into grizzly bear habitats, such as residential and industrial developments and roads, greatly increases the likelihood of human grizzly bear conflicts, and when combined with greater access by hunters, this increases the total mortality of grizzly bears in a region.

Because grizzly bears have low productivity, populations grow slowly and they have low resilience to population reductions, which if not reversed, can lead to long-term declines, and, in some cases, local extirpations. Quite simply, when mortality continually exceeds reproduction grizzly bear populations will decline.

Yukon grizzly bears could be wiped out in 7 years

The graph below is a hypothetical estimate of the future of the Yukon grizzly bear population in relation to the number of hunting tags sold per year. The estimate says that we might have 7,000 grizzly bears in Yukon. The government is selling more than 1000 grizzly bear tags per year. So, hypothetically, if all those tags were actually used to kill bears, then it would only take 7 years to wipe out Yukon’s grizzly bear population.

 

 

GRIZZLY BEARS COULD BE EXTINGUISHED WITHIN 7 YEARS

1 Population estimates are out dated

We might have even less than 6,000 to 7,000 bears

According to the Grizzly Bear Conservation Draft Plan (Nov 2018) we do not have precise numbers, but very clear hunting regulations (lines 187 – 191 in draft plan). The draft plan asserts: “Yukon current grizzly bear population estimates and sustainable mortality rate were derived in the 1980s and may be out dated” (lines 541 – 542).

However the released Grizzly Bear Conservation Plan states that the last estimate was derived in the 1990s based on biologists understanding of how many Grizzly bears could be supported in various regions of Yukon, given regional habitat characteristics and not considering the effects of development. The plan says clearly: “The true value is unknown” (p 5).

2 Hunting of Grizzly bears

But still roadside hunting and hunting (outfitters) in general of Grizzly bears is legal. Each Yukon resident can kill one Grizzly bear every 3 years… and the human population of the Yukon is growing. Poaching is another fact we have to take into consideration.

3 Low productivity/ vulnerability

Grizzly bears have a low productivity and low resilience to population reductions. The number of mature individuals is uncertain and might be just half of the total number.

4 Since 2018 Grizzly bears are considered officially as a “Species of Special Concern” in Western Canada. They are now listed under the Federal Species at Risk Act (SARA).

                                                    But

The Yukon Government still sells 1000 plus Grizzly bear hunting tags per year to outfitters and Yukon resident hunters.

The Yukon Grizzly Bear Conservation and Management plan says: “Grizzly conservation needs to abide by the precautionary principle – proposing actions to avoid impacts on Grizzly bears even in the absence of perfect knowledge” (p14).

5 Conclusion: All hunting activities of Grizzly bears have to stop at least until we have a reliable estimate on the remaining Grizzly bear population

Source: Yukon Grizzly Bear Conservation and Management Plan Working Group. 2019. A conservation plan for grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) in Yukon. Government of Yukon, Department of Environment. Whitehorse, Yukon

GRIZZLY BEAR POPULATION STUDIES 

Yukon North Slope Study by Yukon Territorial Government (YTG)
& Southern Lakes Study, by Ramona Maraj, Carnivore Biologist (YTG)

Yukon North Slope, 2004 to 2010
Purpose of the study was to study population change, reproductive rate and survival rate.

Conclusion: Population at Yukon North Slope is stable or at carrying capacity and seems to be healthy, due to the fact that there is no human settlement and no hunting pressure.

Southern Lakes, 2009 to 2015
Population decline of 11% per year

Note: Lack of data points resulted in a less than determinant estimate. Insufficient adult collaring was completed with only 39 individual sub-adult and adult grizzly bears handled and tracked. Within these 39 bears, three of them were found, dead ‘in-the-field’ from human gunshot wounds, not reported. Another collared bear was killed and buried, later reported. Conclusion: The evidence found supports the findings and statement that “unreported mortality of grizzly bears in the Southern Lake region is likely high”. 

Bruce McLellan, ecologist BC Ministry of Forests, and Robert Serrouya, University of Alberta, both independent Biologists, summarized all the research done on Grizzly bears in Yukon. Following are statements coming from their review of the Southern Lakes research completed by Ramona Maraj:

  • General overall data on Grizzly Bears is lacking from areas under pressure and hunted across the Yukon.
  • Limited or insufficient data has been gathered in the Southern Lakes where there is pressure and Grizzly Bears are hunted.
  • Adequate population ecological research is needed in heavily hunted areas.Conclusion from Grizzly Bear research done in Yukon 
  • The only solid research completed on Yukon’s grizzly bear population was done on the North Slope where there is none to minimal pressure from humans or hunting. 
  • In the Southern Lakes, where there is substantial human and hunting pressure, the population is on the decline. Unfortunately, grizzly bear populations, health and welfare is not currently a priority due to lack of resources and funding, as identified by current YTG Conservation officers.  

CONCLUSION:

Grizzly Bear populations need to be studied and researched to determine immediate changes to hunting regulations across the Yukon. Grizzly Bears are now a species of concern in Canada and including the Yukon.

* The information gathered above was the result of an ATIPP request to the Yukon Government.

Bear Smart Initiatives by Jurisdiction – A quick comparison of actions taken by governments and other stakeholders to reduce human-bear conflict.

Source: Bear Smart Communities Scan – March 2018

Official Hunting Numbers from Yukon Government

Hunter TypeKill Type2017-20182018-20192019-2020Grand Total
Non ResidentHunted345249135
ResidentHunted22243581
Resident - First Nation (lic)Hunted2103
Conservation OfficerDefense of Life or Property63918
PublicDefense of Life or Property3137
N/AFound in Field1001
Grand Total688497249