Effective bear strategy needed

Over the past few years, the problem of nuisance bears overrunning the communities of Northwestern Ontario has escalated beyond what even we are—or should be—comfortable with.
Recent cuts to the province’s “Bear Wise” program, which removed the ability of MNR officials to trap and relocate nuisance bears, has left people across the north feeling vulnerable and at risk.
Since these cuts have been made, my constituency offices have been flooded with safety concerns by people across the riding. And when bears show up in school yards in Sioux Lookout during school hours, attack tourists at provincial parks, and attempt to gain entry to homes inside of any city limit, we have a serious problem brewing.
Even the Ministry of Natural Resources, with which I met this past week, admits the number of “human-bear encounters” has increased significantly over the past few years.
The problem, it seems, lies with how we address the very serious safety issue.
Presently, there’s been a fair bit of discussion by politicians about how to best handle problem bears. The Liberals, for instance, have allowed a backbench MPP to introduce a private member’s bill to reintroduce the spring bear hunt while the PCs think that allowing people to shoot bears within our towns and cities is the way to go.
Obviously politicians do not have all the answers. I’ve always believed that politicians are generalists at best, and that we need to take direction from the people we serve, as well as the experts working in the field.
That’s why my seatmate and NDP colleague, John Vanthof, proposed a private member’s motion to create a committee that will travel across Northern Ontario, meet with concerned and affected individuals, and consult with experts to determine the best course of action.
We need to take the politics out of bear management, which is why the proposed committee would be made up of equal numbers of MPPs from each political party and chaired by the government.
As bad as the PC decision was to cancel the spring bear hunt without any notice or consultation, the Liberal proposal to reintroduce it in the same manner is no better.
Not only that, but simply reinstating the hunt alone will do nothing to deal with the mounting safety concerns. If a bear is hanging out in a school yard, threatening the safety of our children, the knowledge that there is a spring bear hunt will do nothing to improve their safety in that moment.
That’s why I’m convinced we need to have an open discussion with the people who actually live in bear country about how to best cohabitate with our wild and dangerous neighbours.
We also need to include scientists to determine if we really have experienced a spike in the bear population, and with tourist operators, who had their livelihoods threatened when a significant component of their business was removed without their input.
And most importantly, we need to act now. Let’s get on with addressing bear management in a responsible, comprehensive way that looks at the safety and economic impacts.
What are your thoughts?