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There are two new areas where hunters can now harvest Wood Bison. The areas were created to compensate for the cancelled caribou hunt. - NNSL file photo

Hunt allowed for highway bison
New zone for GHL hunters to compensate for caribou ban

Elizabeth McMillan
Northern News Services
Published Friday, April 30, 2010

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Wildlife officials are reporting 22 bison have been harvested after an open-season hunting area was declared between Yellowknife and Frank Channel Jan. 1 to make up for the cancelled caribou hunt.

Environment Minister Michael Miltenberger halted the Bathurst Caribou hunt in a vast area north of Yellowknife after surveys showed the herd is in decline.

"Because people couldn't get caribou, to address that hardship, we opened up these new zones so they could get bison ... and have meat," said Judy McLinton, spokesperson for the department of Environment and natural Resources. "We didn't change any (regulations), what we added were two new zones under the interim hunting regulations."

There are two new bison hunting areas - one stretching from Yellowknife to the Frank Channel, and another on the other side of the river, halfway to Fort Providence.

Previously, there was no bison hunting in these areas.

The first, much larger open-season zone is open to General Hunting Licence (GHL) holders. There are no restrictions on the sex of the bison that can be killed within the area, and animals can be taken from the highway as long as firearms aren't discharged from vehicles, or along or across the road.

The department requires people to report their hunts with 72 hours to ENR. Hunters must also brand or certify the horns they take.

Out of the 22 bison reported, McLinton didn't have specifics on how many bulls and calves there were by press time.

Only people with a Wood Bison tag can kill animals in the smaller zone. Ndilo, Dettah and Yellowknife split 25 tags and the Tlicho government has another 20 to distribute.

While GHL holders can harvest both male and female bison, resident and non-resident hunting licence holders can only kill male animals.

Hunters in the tag-only zone have 10 days to report the harvest. McLinton said she didn't know how many animals had been harvested in this zone.

The annual ballot draw for bison tags for a hunt in the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary near Fort Providence is still continuing, said McLinton.

The department's most recent numbers placed the Wood Bison herd at 1,600 animals. McLinton said the department wasn't concerned the new regulations would affect the size of the herd

"No, or we wouldn't have put the regulations in," she said.

Yellowknife Mayor Gord Van Tighem said he didn't see any bison on a recent trip from Yellowknife to Behchoko but he wasn't concerned.

He said it's not unusual for animals to move further away from roadways when hunting regulations change.

"That's the first thing that happens," he said. "There's more to it than if they're hunted or not."

He said bison moving away from the road could be a positive thing as they're less likely to cause accidents on highways and, "The bison are back in the bushes where they should be living."

While bison are often a fixture of NWT tourism images, Van Tighem said he didn't see a reduction of bison sightings as a tourism deterrent.

"If it becomes rare, it's a more valuable experience," he said, adding tourists are always more likely to see animals if they go looking for them early in morning or just before dark.

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