In September 1980 I led a large string of horses on a two day journey from Beale Lake to Eaglehead Lake, which was in the far western part of my Grandfathers outfitting concession in northern British Columbia. Several years earlier I had guided my first moose hunter here using a canoe. I was mesmerized by the placid beauty of this lake and surrounding mountains. Now as the fall foliage was just changing color, we took horses into the area for the first time. Mountains were endless, rugged, and lacking any established horse trails. Our quest was to find some trophy moose and caribou for eager hunters waiting at the lake.
Sipping “cowboy” coffee outside the small hunting shack the morning after our arrival, I listened intently to the rutting call of a distant bull moose. The ambiance was soon spoiled by another sound that was to become a constant distraction for the rest of the trip…..helicopters. As we went about our business of saddling horses and preparing for the days ride I thought, “well, a few helicopter flights aren’t going to spoil this hunt”!
We rode west from Eaglehead, stopping often to glass the higher elevations for caribou and to give an occasional moose call. By early afternoon we had seen no animals and not much sign. The constant sight & sound of helicopters slinging fuel drums was very annoying. My Spanish hunter started asking pointed questions; “where are the moose?” and “where are those helicopters coming from?”. Lacking solid answers, I decided that we just had to work harder and cover more ground. This area had been crawling with game when I guided here a few years ago. So we rode on up to a high pass where we could look down on the lake and west toward a new valley. Reaching the crest we immediately received a sensual shock. Just below us was a large tent city! Two dozen white wall tents on wooden frames, a helicopter parked nearby, the sound of large diesel generators, dogs barking and people walking. Cut lines and trenching from a bulldozer were visible on the mountains around the camp. I remember looking at the hunter in utter disgust and swearing loudly. We climbed back on our horses, turned around and headed back to our own,comparatively humble, camp. The hunters dream looking for game in wild habitat was shattered.
After a week of frustratingly hard hunting we did manage to harvest one nice 60″ bull moose. My Grandfather then called on the radio and told us that caribou hunting in this area was now closed. This made little difference to us anyway, as we had not seen a single caribou during the trip. So we packed up our camp and rode several days in the opposite direction from the multiple distractions of mineral exploration. It seemed that the animals had the same idea. Suddenly moose & caribou sign increased dramatically. We were once again back in a wild landscape, where a primitive form of recreation (hunting) was possible.
Thirty four years later, there are still some major conflicts between guiding and mineral exploration. This is true even in my own remote Yukon outfitting concession. However, social attitudes are changing and the Yukon seems to be moving beyond the simplistic economic scenario of free entry staking and limitless mineral extraction. Watershed management plans are being developed to reflect all social aspirations, including wilderness protection, water quality integrity, and treaty rights of indigenous people who were here long before the Klondike gold rush of 1898 and the commodity price frenzy of today. Unfortunately a few Yukon politicians, supported by well financed mining interests are fighting vigorously against the rising tide of wilderness protection. As is often the case between conflicting points of view, the courts will have to intervene. Having followed sheep trails and the wilderness path my whole life…I stand firmly on the side of protection.
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