FAUNA / WILDLIFE
Sometimes 60 salmon inside. Checked trap in morning and check in
night. Cut the fish right there, don't pack it anywhere. No kids play
around where they cut fish. No young girl walk around there either.
Have good feed of fish right there.
Move fish to the main camp.
-Harry Baum, 1993
I have sat here and seen the caribou cross the river half a
dozen at a time. of course everybody got excited and got out and
started shooting caribou but we were not hunters at all. But we had
all the wild meat we wanted.
-Martha Cameron (FSOHP 1984, p. 43.)
Many of the Yukon's wildlife species use habitat along the Yukon
River and around Fort Selkirk. Common mammal species likely to be
seen by river travellers include: moose, black bear, coyote, red
fox, arctic ground squirrel, rabbit, and muskrat. Other less
commonly seen species include: grizzly bear, sheep, wolf,
wolverine, lynx, martin, mink, and weasel. Birds of prey,
waterfowl, songbirds, and game birds such as sharptailed grouse are
frequently viewed along the river valley. People have hunted and
trapped animals in the Fort Selkirk vicinity for generations.
Selkirk elders report sheep, caribou, moose and fish as the most
important food species of the area.
Caribou have inhabited this area since ancient times.
Excavations at the basalt cliffs across from the townsite revealed
caribou bones dated at 1.6 million years old, from before the
volcanic activity; which formed the basalt palisade that can be
seen across from Fort Selkirk. These caribou bones are the oldest
known in the world. Elders speak of the caribou migrating across
the lava terrace north of Fort Selkirk. The geologist Hugh Bostock
wrote in the 1930s that in "some years they (caribou) appear
in large numbers along the Lewes River from Selkirk to Carmacks...
(they) return in great herds of many thousands in July." These
migrations of the Forty Mile herd no longer take place, but are an
important part of the Fort Selkirk heritage. Some speculate that
the herd had moved south for several years, displaced by the
activity of the Klondike gold rush.
Woodland Caribou seen in the area are very similar to barren
ground caribou, but are heavier. Caribou are sociable, usually
observed in bands of 10 to 50 animals. These herds migrate between
dry open ridges and forested valley bottoms. Lichen, often growing
on trees, is the mainstay of the caribou's diet. In summer, they
also eat a variety of leaves, twigs, sedges and grasses. Caribou
are excellent swimmers.
Pacific Chinook and chum salmon start their migration in the
Bering Sea and swim 3,000 km up the Yukon River to spawn. Thousands
of Chinook and chum salmon typically spawn in areas of upwelling
groundwater in the side channels or sloughs of the Yukon River from
Fort Selkirk upstream to Minto. Salmon also spawn in back eddies
downstream of Fort Selkirk. Chinook spawn in late July and
September, while chum, or dog salmon, spawn from September to
November. Spawning fish during these periods attract black and
grizzly bears to this stretch of river. After hatching, Chinook
salmon spend at least a year in fresh water before returning to the
Pacific Ocean. Chum salmon return to the sea as soon as they hatch
in the spring.
Salmon have been fished from the Yukon and Pelly Rivers for
probably thousands of years. Three-way Channel, 12 km downstream
from Fort Selkirk, is an important traditional site where fish
baskets, fish traps and other artifacts relating to fishing have
been found. Victoria Rock, just downstream from Fort Selkirk, is
the site of an historic fish camp. The Pelly River is home to a
large species of whitefish known as the Tezra whitefish. These fish
are an important part of the local food fishery. Other species in
the Yukon and Pelly Rivers include grayling, pike and trout.
Fort Selkirk is located on a major North American migratory bird
flyway over the Tintina Trench. Hundreds of thousands of waterfowl
and cranes follow the Tintina Trench route into Alaska. The Pelly
and Yukon River confluence is often used as a staging ground by
migratory birds such as Sandhill Cranes. These long-legged,
long-necked birds roost, (resting place) on river bars and islands
during the spring and fall migrations. Sandhill cranes migrate in
large flocks, in V or line formation. The cranes fly by day and
night, and during their flight, the river valley resounds with
their haunting cry.
Peregrine falcons nest in many of the cliffs along the river
from Minto to Alaska. This part of the Yukon River has one of the
largest peregrine falcon populations in North America. In the late
1960s, these birds were in danger of global extinction. Anatum
peregrines, raised in captivity, were successfully foster released
in this area into the care of adult falcons who had no young or
for some reason, were unable to raise their own chicks. This
program started in 1978 and continued for seven or eight years. The
peregrine populations have rebounded and are now well-established.
Bank and cliff swallows also inhabit the cliffs along the Yukon
River. Ravens nest in the basalt cliffs at Fort Selkirk. The Pelly
Farm site attracts sharp-tailed grouse, swans and geese during
A.W.F. Banfield, 1974. The Mammals of Canada.
Canada, Fisheries and oceans information sheets. Yukon Fish
C. McClellan et al, 1987. Part of the Land, Part of the
Peterson, Roger, 1961. National Audubon Society. Field Guide
to Western Birds.
Yukon, Department of Renewable Resources, 1985. Furbearers of
Yukon, Department of Renewable Resources, 1986. Yukon Big