Council to weigh options for dealing with bears

With the town’s bylaw department having responded to roughly 85 bear reports over the past four weeks, it’s clear Fort Frances has seen a lot of bruin activity lately.
But whether the town should continue to trap and release them, or simply shoot them, was a topic brought forward to council Monday night from the local Police Services Board via board member Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft.
“Should we be taking a more ‘police’ role in disposing of the bears instead of trapping them and taking to places far away, and having them wander back again?” he wondered.
Coun. Wiedenhoeft was referring to a question raised at the last PSB meeting, during which a board member reported they’d had four run-ins with bears in recent weeks and brought the issue forward there.
“It seems as though the problem with the bears this year has been greater than in the past,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft noted.
“Although statistics would lead one to believe that it isn’t an exceptionally bad year, that doesn’t preclude the possibility that someone will be hurt seriously, or even killed, by one of these bears,” he warned.
Acting OPP detachment commander S/Sgt. Steve Shouldice told the PSB that Ear Falls has destroyed 23 bears so far this year while Red Lake has shot 16.
“He was wondering whether or not we should destroy more black bears because they are presenting a serious safety hazard to the citizens of Fort Frances,” said Coun. Wiedenhoeft.
“Does council have a mind to take a more active role in eliminating bears rather than trapping them, and sending them north to have them wander back?”
“I could find out if we have an adopted policy to trap them,” said Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig. “I know we’re getting some funding from the government to trap them and relocate them in the wild.
“If we choose to take a more aggressive stance, I don’t know what will happen with that funding.”
McCaig agreed there’s no doubt the escalation in bear activity here has been significant, and that the town’s bylaw officers, who also have spent time in local schools promoting bear safety to children, have been “taxed” by all the calls.
He also noted the town does have “trigger points,” meaning the town can choose to have an OPP officer shoot a bear if attempts have been made to otherwise subdue it but it still poses a threat to public safety, as happened last Tuesday in an incident near the Ministry of Natural Resources office on Scott Street.
But this measure currently is an exception to the rule, said McCaig. “If we decide to make that decision [to shoot bears], that’s a pretty significant policy decision,” he remarked.
Council agreed it needed more input on the issue, and requested bylaw enforcement officers Dave Egan and Arlene Byrnes appear at its next meeting Oct. 11.
Coun. Neil Kabel, who also sits on the PSB, noted S/Sgt. Shouldice stressed the public should call in all bear sightings to the OPP so the animals can be efficiently monitored.
“If you’ve got a black bear in your yard, go in your house and call. They will come,” he remarked.
The OPP can be contacted at 1-888-310-1122.