Ontario government likely to lose in controversial decision to reintroduce spring bear hunt

After 11 months at the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, Ontario, an orphaned black bear is released back into the Quebec wilderness on July 7, 2004. c. IFAWIn what is likely to be a losing attempt to win rural votes in northern Ontario, the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne has quietly announced a proposal to allow municipalities to re-instate the controversial spring bear hunt for a trial 2-year period.  

The government claims that allowing hunters to kill bears in the spring will be an “effective response to nuisance bear issues in the north.” 

Such a statement contradicts all available scientific evidence, including that from the Ministry’s own wildlife biologists and the Nuisance Bear Review Committee, who note that reports of nuisance bear are linked to food supply, not population size or hunting seasons.

Ontario is home to an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 black bears. The spring bear hunt was cancelled in 1999, after staff from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) revealed that over 270 bear cubs were orphaned each year and left to starve to death as a direct result of the hunt.

IFAW supporters played a critical role in ending this hunt: over 25,000 public comments were made on Ontario’s bear hunt policy, more than were received on any other issue in history!  

The cancellation of the spring bear was successful in reducing the number of abandoned bear cubs.  It did not have an impact on the number of bears in Ontario, and black bear populations have been stable over the last decade.  It also did not affect the numbers of so-called “nuisance bears”.

In fact, the Ontario Nuisance Bear Committee found that there was no connection between the cancellation of the spring bear hunt and increases in nuisance bear activity.  Instead, there was a clear connection between fluctuations in natural food abundance and nuisance activity.

It is obvious, then, that bringing back the spring bear hunt will do little to reduce occurrences of human-bear interactions or “nuisance bears.”  Indeed, Wynne’s announcement has nothing to do with public safety, and everything with trying to win rural votes in the next election.

It seems a risky gamble, guaranteed to anger the majority of Ontarians who do not want to see more orphaned and abandoned cubs (which, ironically, may be more likely to grow into nuisance bears).  

Hunting outfitters in northern Ontario are also unlikely reap any economic benefit from the announcement. Prior to its cancellation, most participants in the spring bear hunt were American hunters. Under the current proposal, only Ontario hunters will be able to take part in the expanded hunt.

While it is true that the northern Ontario outdoor tourism industry in Ontario is taking a hard hit, but this is due to a strong Canadian dollar and today’s announcement does nothing to change that.

Re-introducing the spring bear hunt is a losing proposition for all concerned – for bears, northern Ontarians, and - potentially - the Wynne government in the next provincial election.


We need your help to protect bears!

Please email Premier Wynne and let her know that killing bears in a spring hunt - when they are hungry and their cubs are vulnerable - is not the answer to resolving human-bear interactions. 

Please copy the Minister of Natural Resources, David Orazietti and your local MPP. Thank you!

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