Time to reinstate spring bear hunt – Thunder Bay Editorial (Chronicle-Journal – May 29, 2012)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

Sometimes, a dead horse has to be kicked, again and again. The former spring bear hunt in Ontario is one such animal.

If the provincial government is really serious about helping the region’s tourist industry and managing black bear populations in Northern Ontario, it will reinstate the spring bear hunt.

The hunt is currently a viable tourism and wildlife management option in nine other provinces and territories across Canada. Why not Ontario? Are their bears different from ours?

A Winnipeg man has already been bitten this year by a bear north of Sioux Lookout, hauled from an outhouse in a story that made national headlines. Children in the town’s Sioux Mountain School are reportedly being kept indoors at recess these days because bears are roaming the area. A longer fall bear hunt has not been sufficient to keep bear numbers in check and the number and reports of nuisance bears is rising throughout the province.

Ontario’s annual spring bear hunt was cancelled in 1999 over claims that too many cubs were being orphaned by hunters. The allegation has been forcefully challenged by hunting groups.

According to the website ontarioblackbears.com, Ontario’s black bear population was rising well before the spring bear hunt was cancelled. The spring hunt was slowing down the increase, but the black bear population has been increasing because we have changed the environment to favour bears. Clear-cutting forests leaves enormous amounts of berries throughout the area for many years. The abundance of berries stimulates black bear reproduction. Decades ago, one or two cubs was normal. Now three to four cubs are fairly close to average. A mother and four cubs seen at Neebing’s Sandhill landfill were pictured in this newspaper last weekend.

Once the berries have been depleted by more bears (and not a few human pickers) hungry bears go elsewhere in search of food and encounters with humans are unavoidable. A growing black bear population is also responsible in large part for a reduction in the region’s moose herd; bears are fond of eating moose calves.

The spring hunt is supported by tourist organizations, the Northwestern Ontario Sportsmen’s Alliance and Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. Even the Ontario Federation of Agriculture has come out in favour of reinstating the hunt.

“The rising bear population is causing increasing damage to crops and putting human safety at risk,” OFA president Mark Wales said.

Those sentiments are ignored by the Ministry of Natural Resources which is no longer be trapping and relocating nuisance bears. These changes to the ministry’s Bear Wise program raise further public safety issues. Yet, Natural Resources Minister Michael Gravelle says that the government will not relent.

“(It’s) not going to happen. The decision was made many, many years ago and there’s been no change in that decision,” he said.

That’s too bad. It’s too bad for the tourist industry which is starving for revenue. It’s too bad for outdoors people who have to fear every time they go camping. And it’s too bad for the bears, because more are being killed as nuisance animals, and more cubs are being killed and eaten by an increasing number of large male bears.

It’s time to reconsider this standard wildlife management option.

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