Let's talk about Yukon's wildlife viewing industry

On Thursday, 29 October Yukon NDP MLA Kevin Barr asked the following question about opportunities to grow the wildlife viewing industry in Yukon.

Kevin Barr (Yukon NDP Tourism and Culture Critic): Last spring, I shared with this House that our neighbour, Alaska, had quantified wildlife’s economic importance. In 2011, hunters and wildlife viewers generated economic activity worth over $3.4 billion. Yukon’s Department of Environment and Tourism and Culture have produced wonderful wildlife viewing guides, and a strategy is being developed. The Wildlife Viewing Technical Committee is working with multiple partners. I want to be certain the government is taking the business opportunity of wildlife viewing seriously.

Can the minister confirm its intention to analyze the economic potential of wildlife-viewing businesses playing a part in Yukon’s tourism industry?

Wade Istchenko (Minister of the Environment): I do thank the member opposite for the question. We do have a wildlife viewing strategy. We have many programs in place. You just have to look at the spring interpretive centre at Swan Haven.

The member opposite is correct. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, in my years as a guide in the Yukon, I viewed wildlife on many occasions. We have printed booklets and brochures, and they are in high demand.

When it comes to our visitors and our residents, we look forward to getting information for them every year. Some of the new publications that we will be putting forward are going to be increasing some of the other animals that we see out there.

Mr. Barr: Tourism is the bright light of our economy. It is a growing and sustainable industry, and there is so much untapped potential. Wildlife viewing is a potentially lucrative and sustainable industry for Yukon. Bear Cave Mountain is booking into 2017. The department’s good work to date shows the inventory of wildlife and spaces that could be part of a commercial industry. If the government is serious about economic diversification, this is a niche market and should be studied. Successful businesses require planning as well as a policy framework.

In order to diversify our economy, is the government developing a modern wildlife management plan and a way to include wildlife viewing in land management decisions?

Elaine Taylor (Minister of Tourism and Culture): I am really pleased to hear that the member opposite will be voting in support of Tourism and Culture and the Government of Yukon expenditures as they pertain to wildlife viewing.

When it comes to tourism, it is a major economic generator in this territory, and that is why this government continues to invest significantly increased expenditures in support of tourism marketing. One only has to take a look at each of the six television commercials that the Government of Yukon has invested in, in collaboration with the tourism industry, which really highlight and showcase wildlife as a major pillar of our tourism marketing plan.

As the member opposite has articulated, we will continue to invest in wildlife viewing sites. We will continue to invest with the Department of Environment and all of our partners — Swan Haven, the investments in the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, and all of the net economic-generated benefits that are accruing to the Yukon government and to all Yukoners, and the intrinsic, the social, economic and cultural values associated with those.

Yes, Mr. Speaker, we will continue to invest significantly in this area — but in all of our respective pillars that make tourism the success it is today.

Mr. Barr: We are talking about $3.4 billion that our neighbours enjoy, which we haven’t yet hardly experienced tapping into.
All Yukoners want our economy to have some insulation from the boom-and-bust commodity cycle. That means we need to diversify the economy. We acknowledge that good work has been done in wildlife tourism and that all partnerships have been initiated. We want to encourage government to take its strategic plan for wildlife viewing in Yukon to the next level.

The current strategic plan refers to working with commercial tour companies to facilitate wildlife viewing. To grow this business, we should bring more than large tour companies to the table — how about our local businesses?

Will the government agree to host an inclusive industry forum for Yukon tourism businesses with the goal of developing a wildlife viewing industry in the territory?

Mr. Istchenko: I thank again the member opposite for the question. Mr. Speaker, we do appreciate the value in wildlife viewing. I made a living on it. That’s why we’re committed to some of the programs going out — some of the partnerships that we have, some of the community projects — and local stakeholders that we already work with — with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in on the installation of some of our interpretive panels in the City of Dawson, the development of their interpretive panels at Crocus Bluff.

Keno City club, an update on interpretive materials available at the Keno City Alpine Interpretive Centre — the Girl Guides of Canada and the Swan Haven Interpretive Centre — and my fellow colleague mentioned the wildlife preserve — Ducks Unlimited — the support for the bird monitoring at Swan Haven, Yukon Energy and our support for the Celebration of Swans — the Town of Faro and the Crane and Sheep Viewing Festival — and the City of Whitehorse has significant wildlife sites and areas.

Mr. Speaker, we do understand and we appreciate that wildlife viewing is great for the economy of the Yukon and we plan on working with our stakeholders moving forward in the future.