Residents have until February 18 to share their views on the Ontario government’s proposal to make the spring bear hunt pilot permanent.
The pilot was introduced in 2014 and has continued annually since — this after a spring bear hunt was cancelled back in 1999.
The province announced the public consultation in January, explaining that the proposal is to ensure a healthy and sustainable black bear population, and is in support of small businesses in central and northern Ontario.
Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, John Yakabuski, said in a statement that Ontario has a healthy bear population and it’ll continue to monitor those numbers, “harvest results and sustainability indicators to inform an annual review to ensure bear populations are managed sustainably.”
Yakabuski added “we are listening to the concerns of northern Ontarians and the tourism industry that an ongoing pilot spring season creates economic uncertainty,” and he said the proposal would allow tourism outfitters, camp owners, and hunters to plan operations and activities for the year.
The province also noted that all protections for black bears will remain in place, such as it being illegal to harvest black bear cubs, and females with cubs in the spring — if convicted, a person could see a fine up to $25,000 and one year in jail.
To address the declining black bear population on the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario is proposing to reduce bear hunting season in that area, as well as updates to black bear regulations, including eliminating special black bear hunting opportunities for non-residents, and requiring people guiding hunters for commercial purposes to obtain a licence.
In a phone interview with Daily Hive, ministry spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski, said since the spring bear hunt pilot was launched a few years ago, it has been “renewed and reviewed” in consideration of making this hunting season permanent.
Conservation group the Fur-Bearers is opposed to the spring bear hunt, primarily out of fear that black bear cubs will become orphaned.
Fur-Bearers Spokesperson Michael Howie said it’s the same reason why the spring bear hunt was cancelled to begin with nearly 20 years ago. The province states on the Black Bear Management Background page it was to address “concerns about the potential orphaning of cubs during the spring at a time when they are very dependent.”
“Particularly in the early spring, which is when this hunt takes place,” Howie said, “mother bears leave cubs behind intentionally while foraging for food,” explaining that sows will leave the little ones up trees, in dens, or in another safe space, “these are young cubs who aren’t really capable of fending for themselves all that well yet,” then the mother bear goes back to them with the food.
Howie said there is no way for a hunter to tell if a black bear is male or female, or if it does have cubs that aren’t there.
“When we bring this point up, the only opposition we’re told is ‘it’s illegal to kill a sow with cubs’ which it is,” Howie said, then raising the question, “how do you know until after you kill the bear?”
“It’s impossible to enforce and it’s impossible to know,” he said.
Howie said that while the group is opposed to the spring bear hunt becoming permanent, if it does, he would like to see the season be pushed to June instead to give the cubs an extra two to three weeks to get older to be with their mothers while they look for food, “it’s a very simple change that can make a big difference.”
“I think we have a healthy bear population in Ontario until we don’t have a healthy bear population in Ontario, and that’s not to say I expect it to decline dramatically, nor do I think that the spring bear hunt would cause that,” Howie said, “that being said, simply saying ‘we have enough so why not?’ is never really a great rationale for any decision making.”
The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters is welcoming the province’s proposal for the full return of the spring bear hunt.
OFAH Wildlife Biologist Keith Munro said this move is a “major advocacy point” for the organization since the hunt was cancelled in 1999.
“We always have maintained that the cancellation was never justified from a sustainability point of view — we’re a science-based organization with a ‘conservation first mandate,'” he said.
“Now we’re very excited and have been working very hard to bring it back, both for the benefits that it will deliver to our members, the benefits to Ontario’s broader economy, but also the signal that this is decision-making for wildlife management based on science rather than sort of emotional rederick.”
Addressing the concerns surrounding potential orphaning of cubs, Munro said in ’99, OFAH was told by the “leading black bear scientist in Ontario” that the orphaning of bear cubs by hunters is an “extremely rare event.”
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Munro said a hunter’s mantra is “know your target and ensure you’re harvesting a legal animal,” and that there are ways for a hunter to identify if a bear is a male or female, for example “males tend to be much more heavily bodied, they have distinct muscle masses on their heads,” to name a few.
He added that female bears with cubs don’t move around as much and avoid areas with other bears, where hunters are hunting.
“The spring bear hunt is a very unique hunt, it’s a chance to get out at a time of year when not very many other species are in season, it’s a time to get a really excellent, healthy sort of meat,” Munro said. “Bear also provides things like valuable hides, which a lot of people will find ways to use, then there’s also the opportunity to get out there — it’s a great time of year, we get to spend time with friends and family, it’s a real just like valuable tradition and passion.”
Both Howie and Munro are encouraging residents to take time to research the spring bear hunt pilot before making their opinions heard on the Environmental Registry of Ontario online, up until Tuesday, February 18 at midnight.
After the province receives the feedback online, Kowalski said it’ll be reviewed before any plans are made.