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Yukon Crown drops charges after grizzly bear killed near Klukshu last year

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Charges have been dropped against a Yukon hunter after a grizzly bear was killed near the traditional fishing village of Klukshu last year.

Scott Damsteegt was charged under the Yukon Wildlife Act with both hunting a grizzly bear without a permit and negligent use of a firearm. Court records state the date of the offense was November 8, 2023.

Damsteegt's first court date was March 26. The next entry in the court file is a letter dated April 16 from Territorial Court President Lee Kirkpatrick requesting a stay of proceedings on both counts.

No reasons were given for the suspension. Kirkpatrick, reached by email, declined to comment.

CBC News could not reach Damsteegt for comment.

Yukon Department of Environment spokeswoman Linea Volkering said in an email that the conservation agency had also closed its case file. She did not respond to further questions about whether the killing was ultimately deemed legal.

Chuck Hume, a tribal elder of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations who spends most of the summer in Klukshu and also visits throughout the rest of the year, said the news of the stay of charges was “quite disappointing.”

In addition to the loss of the bear, Hume said it was also a safety risk to shoot a gun near the village and especially around the creek, which is an important fishing and berry-gathering area for his First Nation.

“It’s a place, you know, where we teach our grandchildren to fire a firearm or shoot… The bear [also] could have potentially been wounded and someone could have been hurt,” he said.

“We want people to refrain from hunting in this area.”

Hume said he would welcome the establishment of a two-kilometer radius around the Champagne and Aishihik communities, including Klukshu, where shooting would be prohibited for the safety and protection of all.

Hume also believed the bear killed was a large grizzly bear named “The Mayor,” which he had trained to stay on the creek bank away from people and which kept more problematic bears away from the village. However, he said this could not be definitively confirmed until fall, when The Mayor normally returns to the creek to feed on migrating salmon.

“It was always clear to us that we needed to keep a big grizzly in our community. He'll fend off the younger ones, the nuisance animals that come in, and keep an eye on things, so to speak,” Hume said, adding that his First Nation has had an important relationship with grizzly bears for generations.

“For me, charges won’t bring this bear back”

Meanwhile, Yukon photographer Peter Mather, who was among the first to discover the grizzly's carcass last November, said in a separate interview that he was still “really sad” about the situation, but not because of the outcome of the court case.

“In my opinion, charges will not bring this bear back,” said Mather, who has spent a lot of time documenting the bears that live in and around Klukshu.

“For me personally, it's more the emotional aspect of losing this bear that I knew a little bit and that many other people who live in Klukshu knew quite well.”

A carcass lies in the snow. A grizzly bear known as the mayor of Klukshu was probably killed by a trophy hunter, saddening people from the surrounding community.A carcass lies in the snow. A grizzly bear known as the mayor of Klukshu was probably killed by a trophy hunter, saddening people from the surrounding community.

A carcass lies in the snow. A grizzly bear known as the mayor of Klukshu was probably killed by a trophy hunter, saddening people from the surrounding community.

Photographer Peter Mather found the carcass in November. Shortly afterward, Yukon conservation officials announced that a licensed hunter had been charged in connection with the carcass. (Peter Mather)

Mather said he believes the bear was hunted as a trophy because the animal's head, fur and claws were missing from the kill scene. He hopes the situation will spark a discussion about trophy and show hunting of bears in the area.

However, Mather said there was a glimmer of hope: During a winter stay in Klukshu, he learned of a “big, huge, lanky” bear in the area that locals called “The King.”

“I really hope that when the mayor is gone, the king can take over the area and that he can find a good balance between the community and all the smaller bears,” Mather said.

“I hope that there will be a renewal of this kind of relationship, and Chuck [Hume] teach him the rules and everyone can somehow live together as if they always have out there.”