Province should bring back spring bear hunt: report

The long-awaited report regarding the status of nuisance bears in Ontario is now in the hands of the Ministry of Natural Resources awaiting a response from the new administration in Queen’s Park.
The highlight of the report is a strong recommendation the province reinstate the spring bear hunt, which was cancelled four years ago.
The three-member Nuisance Bear Committee was impanelled by the previous provincial government to come up with a recommendation to deal with the increasing problem of bears creating problems and potential hazards for people in small towns and rural areas of the province.
But the committee elected not to go public with its recommendations until after the government had a chance to review it, but with the fall of the government in the recent election and the urgency of the issue, committee member and Fort Frances Mayor Glen Witherspoon released the committee’s findings earlier in the week.
“The reason we went public now was to impress upon the new government the importance of this issue in the north,” said Mayor Witherspoon.
“We’ve made several recommendations regarding safety issues,” he continued. “Our research was very thorough.”^Among the recommendations are: •a proposal for funding to train municipal personnel to safely capture and remove bears when they come into towns and additional money for municipalities to bearproof dumps and waste containers to make them less attractive to bears; •educational programs so urban citizens could learn how things like apple trees and bird feeders tend to attract bears—particularly when there is a poor berry crop; and •seed money to compensate the agricultural community for crop damage caused by bears. This is a particular problem for beekeepers.
In addition, the committee strongly endorsed reintroducing the spring bear hunt, subject to certain conditions.
“That recommendation was actually outside our mandate, but we felt it was a very important issue,” explained Mayor Witherspoon.
The committee proposes a limited spring season to run from April 15 to May 15 in the south and from May 1 to June 1 in the north.
During this period, only male bears may be shot and all baits must be suspended high enough above the ground to force the bear to stand on its hind legs so positive determination of its sex can be made.
The committee is recommending severe penalties be imposed on anyone who kills a female bear during this period.
The committee also recommended the traditional fall hunt be moved back to Sept. 1 from its current mid-August start to ensure berry pickers are out of the bush when the hunting starts. The fall season should include both male and female bears.
Mayor Witherspoon said he hopes the new government will act on these recommendations immediately, since northern tourist operators have seen their income severely diminished since the spring hunt was cancelled four years ago.
“Just in this region (Thunder Bay-Rainy River) there was a $10 million loss in the first year (1999) alone,” he stressed.