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. 

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.

Possible wipe out of Yukon’s Grizzly 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