In its dogged determination to rip apart progressive environmental law and policy, the Government of Ontario is now undoing the 1999 decision to cancel the spring bear hunt. The current proposal is to reinstate the spring hunt across Ontario (i.e., wherever there is a fall black bear hunt – see map).
Spring bear hunt: Human-bear conflict
Ever since its cancellation, supporters of the spring bear hunt have argued that there would be an increase in human-bear conflict and dire consequences for human safety. Government biologists at the Ministry of Natural Resources disagreed based on their own research and other evidence. Yet, in 2014 the government reintroduced the spring hunt in parts of Ontario as a pilot study to assess the validity of safety concerns.
The results of that pilot have not been publicly released, despite their obvious relevance to the current proposal. I’ve been told that’s because the results determined that the MNRF biologists were right in the first place: the spring hunt did not reduce human-bear conflicts. Certainly, the safety argument is conspicuously absent from the government’s current proposal to reinstate the hunt.
Lack of evidence
The government presents no strong arguments or evidence of any kind to support its proposal. It states that the economic consequences are “expected to be neutral to positive” – though again, no information is provided to support even that feeble claim. It is highly unlikely that there would be any big financial impact. Rather, those who used to hire outfitters in the fall to hunt black bears would be hiring them in the spring instead.
Oddly, the government’s chief argument seems to be that moving from a temporary pilot to permanently reinstating the bear hunt will address uncertainty. But of course, permanently cancelling the hunt would provide the same level of certainty. So again, an awfully flimsy rationale.
Here’s what we know
What we do know about the spring bear hunt is:
Most hunters are non-residents who hunt by baiting bears;
Female bears are killed, including nursing mothers;
Orphaned cubs – about five to six months old and typically weighing about five kilograms – starve to death or are killed by other predators;
Despite the threat of large fines, regulations prohibiting the killing of females accompanied by cubs are unenforceable.
No good reason to reinstate the spring bear hunt
There is no good reason to reinstate the spring bear hunt, but there are solid reasons not to. Northerner, Paul Filteau, explains:
“Bear tourism and the killing of animals by baiting isn’t hunting. It requires few hunting skills and little effort. A garbage can is put in the bush with various concoctions to attract bears close to where the tourist sits in a stand and can hopefully distinguish a sow from a boar … Further, the placing of bait in the bush conditions bears to human garbage and scent thereby reducing their natural fear of humans. The widespread spring bear baiting throughout Northern Ontario is the ideal boot camp for training nuisance bears.”
In typical Orwellian fashion, the government announced its proposal with this headline: “Ontario Protecting Black Bears and Promoting Sustainable Hunting”. If nothing else, this misleading rhetoric needs to be called out. UPDATE (MARCH 17, 2020) – The Ontario Government has confirmed that they will bring back the spring bear hunt in 2021.
Anne Bell has been directing Ontario Nature’s conservation and education programs since 2007. She loves to go birding, camping, swimming, and skiing and to play hockey with her husband and two young daughters, Kestrel and Castilleja.