ontario spring bear hunt
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No solution to nuisance bear probity

Shooting bears in the woods does not address the concern many northerners have when bears wander into town or seek food around cottages or camp grounds. The Bear Wise program worked to help address such specific concerns, but short of eliminating bears altogether I don’t see opening spring hunting for bears will do anything positive. Sure the odd bear who might otherwise become a nuisance may be killed, but on the other hand by putting out baits hunters will be conditioning bears to eat human-made foods. We can, and should, listen to the experts, make sure we have no food sources for the bears, and urge the government to reinstate their quite successful Bear Wise program. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot better than simply letting gunmen kill bears, creating orphan cubs and contributing to, not addressing, the problem.

The baiting is an issue for reasons we all know plus bears will be conditioned to human sourced foods from snow melt to snow fall. Hound hunting risks other wildlife with young in the spring including bears. Huntings bears in the spring will result in orphan cubs, that is a fact.

So why did the minister state facts about bears, say the government would not consider a hunt and then prove himself a liar a few weeks later?

from the news... It was only a short while ago (August 2013) when the Minister of Natural Resources said he was NOT considering reinstating the spring hunt. He made the following statement and was quoted as saying:

"The numbers are relatively stable," he said. "Every year we have a different level of food sources and varying weather conditions affect and do affect the number of nuisance bears we have in various communities."

and a letter from Jim Johnston - I would like to clarify some information for folks about the Spring Bear Hunt (SBH) which was cancelled in 1999 after much scientific review of the hunt. It was not as many claim driven strictly by Southern Ontario political reasons although that was a bonus for the politicians in some ridings.

As a result of so much misinformation about bears & so called ‘nuisance bears’ a Nuisance Bear Committee was struck in 2003 consulting across Ontario, with a broad community, individual and group participation. The link below provides the full PDF report on its findings for anyone interested.

click here to see the pdf file

One of the key findings agreed on in the report is that the Spring Bear Hunt had little to no impact on nuisance bear activity in communities! In fact in many years during the Spring Hunt & especially in 1995 & 1998 were the two worst years for ‘nuisance bears’ on record. There were 6,348 bears reported killed in 1998 and 4,124 in 1999. You would think that with 2,000 more bears in circulation that nuisance bear problems would increase – but, no, the number decreased significantly in the first year after the spring hunt ban in 1999. This certainly disproves the idea that killing more bears in the spring will reduce the number of nuisance bears & that their theory is unsound. This has also been supported by the research noted below.

Dr Ed Tavss of Rutgers did a study of communities across N.A. (including Elliot Lake) comparing efficacy of increasing harvests of bears (shooting more bears) versus implementing an effective program like Bear Smart (used effectively across the West with both Black & Grizzly Bears). His studies showed that increasing harvests had little to no impact on reducing nuisance bear activity in nearby communities, whereas programs like Bear Wise and Bear Smart had a dramatic & immediate positive impact on reducing bear problems in those communities. Also interesting to note is that number of bears killed in the increased length of the Fall hunt has almost equaled the previous harvest from the combined Spring & Fall hunts according to MNR data.

The Spring Hunt issue for outfitters was strictly an economic one but they have continually tried to leverage the media into believing otherwise & that the hunt would reduce problem bears. Outfitters I have spoken with said since 1999 & especially since the economic disaster of 2008, say they have far fewer guests from the United States. The middle class of Americans who formed the majority of our vacation and resource based tourism (including the SBH) has all but disappeared, so even if a full SBH is reinstated the market potential & therefore income from the hunt would be dramatically reduced.

Also, a Spring Bear Hunt will NOT reduce bear attacks. Over the past decade, I have monitored bear attacks across North America & have found the following.

Bears that come into communities develop a decreased concern about people but are not more dangerous. If they are not ‘hazed’ to let them know they are not welcome in town, they become like all other wildlife like Raccoons& Foxes and if food is readily available, will keep coming back for the treats.

One common element in the vast majority of bear encounters that resulted in human injuries across N.A. have involved a dog off leash.

Both the serious attack in Cochrane last spring & more recently the woman from Peterborough both involved dogs off leash on a trail or in a rural setting. The media reports in almost every such encounter, how the dogs ‘saved’ their owners, but in reality in almost all these cases it is the dog that triggered the attack. A dog loose in your yard or on leash on a trail is a deterrent for bears as the bear has the choice to avoid the dog . But off leash in the great outdoors, you are just creating a dangerous uncontrollable situation for you and your dog.

From over 75 years of data, all of the bear fatalities in Ontario (involving only 4 incidents) have occurred in remote areas of the Province by male bears. Female Black Bears with cubs are not normally dangerous (that is a Brown Bear trait) but when cubs are threatened by a dog a preventable encounter by a protective female bear quite often ensues & has caused serious injuries to the human involved & often the death of the dog.

Now, relative to the recent announcement about a return of the SBH, this pilot project is only for a few WMU (Wildlife Management Units) around major centers & WILL NOT affect Elliot Lake. Our Bear Wise program launched here in 2004 has been extremely successful. We live in the bush…bears are part of our environment but with a better understanding of bear behaviour & adhering to our garbage & attractant By Laws we can co-exist with few problems with all our wildlife which is why most of us live here.

As in all things, education is the key! I know that from experience.

I held all the long term erroneous beliefs about Black Bears portrayed by the media until I learned from the world’s leading bear experts including Dr. Lynn Rogers about the ‘true nature of bears’. My wife and I have attended 3 field sessions at his research facility outside Ely Minnesota at the Wildlife Research Center. He has worked in bear research for over 47 years. I also depend on other bear experts from MNR as well as Dr. Joe Hamr of Cambrian College in Sudbury who helped us design our Elliot Lake Bear Wise program. I also keep in touch with Dr. Steve Hererro (Prof. Emeritus from U of Calgary), who has also studied bears for over 45 years & wrote the book on Bear Attacks Their Causes & Avoidance as well as Sylvia Dolson who was a founding member of the JJ Whistler Society that started the Bear Smart programs used extensively in many Western towns to reduce nuisance bear problems.

So I hope this helps put the issue in a little better perspective & dispelled some of the myths.

What is needed to reduce bear problems in communities is implementation & enforcement of Bear Wise protocols. It only works if you do it! If you want to learn the facts about Black Bears there are several good websites but the best are at Bear.org & the MNR Bear Wise site.

Thanks for the opportunity to share some information on this subject. Our Friends of Algoma East group presents Black Bear Information Sessions each year in the Spring at the Civic Center. It covers Bear Biology, Bear Behaviour (as well as misbehavin’) , Being Safe in Bear Country & Dealing with Encounters.