Bear with me on a little irony

Only in fairy tales, it seems, can most of us agree on bears. And even then you’ll find some folks who will tell you it is unhealthy to think of wild animals sleeping in beds, eating porridge, and otherwise acting human.
So it is no surprise that the decision last month by the provincial Liberal government not to reinstate the spring bear hunt has been met with polarized positions.
What seems lost in the whole debate, although not surprisingly, is the complexity of managing fish and wildlife populations.
Lest it not be forgotten, black bears are a natural resource. Managed wisely, they can be harvested on a sustainable basis in perpetuity. Of course, trying to define the term “wisely” is where we get ourselves into trouble.
A quagmire might be a better word.
On the one hand, there are some people who believe hunting and fishing are barbaric. At the extreme, these are the same people who have destroyed the data and equipment of researchers conducting clinical trials into such things as sudden infant death syndrome and child birth defects.
Who have firebombed McDonald’s restaurants and delayed by more than two years the development of the AIDS drug AZT because laboratory animals were being used in the experiments.
For a couple of dollars and the price of postage, the Animal Liberation Front, supported by PETA, will mail you “how-to” manuals to make bombs and incendiary devices with which to attack universities, blow up medical facilities, and kill people who would dare take an position contrary to theirs.
In terms of the spring bear hunt, or any hunt for that matter, wise use for these folks means no use.
On the other hand, if we’re going to be fair, there also are extremists within the so-called hunting community. Anyone who watched and listened closely to the recent CBC documentary into Manitoba’s spring bear hunt (of course it was a set-up) will know of what I am talking.
These often are the same people (I hate to use the word “hunters”) who would pull their truck off the highway, 100 yards away from a group of kindergarten children waiting to board a bus, and shoot a deer running across a field.
They seem to have difficulty distinguishing between what is legal and what is ethical.
Fortunately, the vast majority of Ontarians lie somewhere in the middle. Some of us hunt. Some of us don’t. Ironically, we rarely get heard.
Speaking about ironies, what was most interesting about last month’s bear pronouncement was where it was positioned in the newspaper. Right beside a feature in which the new premier and finance minister decried years of future deficits.
Why is that paradoxical?
For starters, because most of the money Ontario spends managing fish and wildlife is raised from the sale of hunting and fishing licences, as well as money received as a result of successful fish and wildlife prosecutions.
That wasn’t always the case. Historically, in fact, the fish and wildlife budget was allocated from the general treasury. After all, natural resources are provincial treasures and belong to all citizens. So the cost of management should be borne according.
But anglers and hunters said they knew better. They demanded dedicated, earmarked funding just like most of the states to the south of us, which ironically, envied our system.
I have to believe that when former premier Mike Harris first heard this request, he could scarcely believe his good fortune. He smiled, agreed, and anglers and hunters subsequently congratulated themselves. Only it seems no one took the time to do some rudimentary accounting.
Relatively speaking, you see, we don’t sell that many licences or prosecute that many cases in Ontario. As a result, the fish and wildlife budget today is roughly half of what it was a decade ago.
How does the old saying go? Be careful what you ask for—you might get it. But that is a story for another day.
With an already dreadful shortage of funding, where will the multi-millions of dollars come from if the Ministry of Natural Resources now assumes full responsibility for nuisance bear management? The height of irony will be if the money is taken from the sale of moose, deer, and fishing licences.
Even more ironic when you consider that if it was managed properly, the bear hunt would provide significant social and economic benefits. Indeed, it could be a cash cow for the government in terms of revenue.
Of course, the provincial government is almost certain to tell us that special funds will be allocated to cover the new costs. At the same time, however, you can be certain that internal freezes will be placed on MNR spending to constrain existing programs and “offset pressures.”
And in two, three, or whatever number of years it takes for the smoke to clear, the nuisance bear program will be fully “funded from within” MNR.
Which brings us back to that recurring theme of irony. Why would the current Liberal government decide not to reinstate the spring hunt? For the same reason the Conservative government originally cancelled it. Most Ontarians find it distasteful.
That includes many hunters, by the way. The aversion isn’t helped any by the fact the vast majority of spring bear hunters are not Canadians.
But it is how the animals are harvested that sways most opponents. They’re shot while picking through piles of garbage as they come out of hibernation and start foraging in the spring.
Ironically (there’s that darned word again), done properly, baiting is the best way to get a bear to stand on its hind legs, expose its private parts, and let the hunter know for certain whether it’s a boar or a sow—especially a sow with cubs.
Then the hunter can refrain from shooting it and avoid orphaning the young bears.
So, who is right and who is wrong? I’ll let you be the judge of that. In the meantime, I’m going to tuck in my grandson and then read him a bedtime story.
But you can bet your bottom dollar it won’t be Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

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