Spring bear hunt decision met with disappointment

The Ontario government announced last Wednesday it would not reinstate the spring bear hunt despite a recommendation to do so from the Nuisance Bear Review Committee, provoking responses of frustration and disappointment across the district.
“I’m disappointed,” said former Fort Frances mayor Glenn Witherspoon, who was a member of the committee. “The government chose to say our recommendation had nothing to do with nuisance bears, and it does.”
The committee made a number of recommendations in its report, including the reinstatement of a limited spring black bear hunt, despite finding no connection between the cancellation of the spring bear hunt and recent increases in nuisance activity.
“The committee recommends that a limited spring black bear hunt be re-instated for socio-economic reasons, but under strict conditions,” the report read.
Those conditions included mandatory training for hunters and outfitters to help distinguish between male and female bears, mandatory reporting and submission of teeth of all bears harvested, the banning of dogs in hunts, and high penalties for killing female bears.
“Honestly, if they had brought these recommendations into effect, I would have been out of business totally” said Clifford Long, owner of Cobblestone Lodge in Ignace.
“It’s very difficult to judge male or female even under the best of circumstances.”
Long also said the phrase “high penalties” was strong language that would have discouraged many hunters.
“You can’t tell people that if you shoot a sow, you could lose your vehicle. It’s just too much to ask,” he noted.
“This committee was nothing but a ploy to put things off,” he charged.
Rather than reinstate the spring bear hunt under these conditions, the Ministry of Natural Resources instead decided to implement a nuisance bear strategy, which includes setting up a 1-800 number, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for people to report nuisance bear problems.
The MNR also promised to support efforts by municipalities to avoid nuisance bear problems, and to work with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to develop a bylaw to help prevent nuisance bear incidents.
And finally, the MNR said it would expand its current education efforts and implement a comprehensive education campaign to help people know how to eliminate bear attractants—and how to deal with bear encounters.
“Our nuisance bear strategy will be a real, positive change for people who are looking for a clear solution to this long-standing problem,” said MNR minister David Ramsay.
Fort Frances Coun. Tannis Drysdale, a former president of the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce (NOACC), said she was “surprised and disappointed” by the decision, adding it was likely a directive from Premier Dalton McGuinty rather than Ramsay himself.
“It’s important to note that they’re working on some solutions to the nuisance bear issues,” she said. “But a 1-800 number that will probably be answered in Toronto does not put my mind to rest.
“Clearly now, no government is going to re-instate it, no matter what promises they make in advance of an election,” Coun. Drysdale added. “At the end of the day, it’s probably just time to move on and find other solutions.”
While the MNR has suggested alternative solutions to the nuisance bear problem, it offered little to lessen the economic impact of the cancelled spring bear hunt.
“My ministry will work as a team with the ministries of Tourism and Recreation, and Northern Development and Mines, to help develop real and lasting jobs for the northern economy,” Ramsay said.
“I’m hopeful they will fund and adequately deal with the situation for municipalities,” Coun. Drysdale said.
“But in the past, the programs that previous governments put in place to assist the industry in transition from the hunt to other revenue-generating mechanisms were actually far more work than they were actually worth,” she noted.
Witherspoon also was disappointed with the help the MNR said it would offer municipalities in dealing with the nuisance bear issue.
“They said they would help municipalities, but they put no price tags on. They made a statement with no teeth,” he argued.
Witherspoon said the government’s decision was particularly disappointing because the fact a committee had been struck to examine the issue had raised hopes.
“There are a lot of people in the business who actually thought they had a chance,” he said. “It’s strictly a political move and an economic move.”
In the past few months, Long had been going door-to-door to businesses in towns across Northwestern Ontario asking them to show their support by displaying an orange poster reading, “We Support Tourist Outfitters,” in their windows.
Long said he has lost $20,000 (U.S.) a year since the spring bear hunt was cancelled in 1999, but stressed money is not his main motivation in his fight to have it reinstated.
“I’m not some radical person trying to bring back a hunt for financial reasons. I’ll survive,” he remarked. “My biggest concern now is safety.”
Long explained that with the spring bear hunt cancelled indefinitely, the bear population will grow to such an extent that more and more bears will be forced to look for food in towns—putting more people at risk.
In a previous letter to the editor, Long had called for a five-year reinstatement of the spring bear hunt as a trial period so the government could study the effects of the hunt on the bear population and the nuisance bear problem.
Had the studies proved the hunt harmful to bear populations, Long said he would have willingly given up bear hunting altogether. “If what they’re saying were true, I’d be the first one to give it up,” he said.
Long said many of the accusations lodged against hunters are untrue, including the killing of female bears that leave cubs orphaned. “In the last three years, every bear we shot was male,” he stressed.
Despite the provincial government’s decision, Long said the struggle is not over.
“I plan on doing this again next spring,” he said of his poster campaign. “Sooner or later, somebody’s got to listen to us.”
(Fort Frances Times)