THERE’S BEARS IN THEM THERE WOODS

I have been hearing a lot of stories over the past year of bear incidents in Ontario. It may be because I have started going camping with my children, or it may be because of stories I hear relayed from relatives of mine that live in northern Ontario. It is probably a combination of the two, as well as the stories we have all read about in the news.

The consensus among northerners is that the Ministry of Natural Resources is to blame, and that the increase in nuisance bear incidents is on the climb because of the political decision of those in southern Ontario to end the spring bear hunt. The past year, according to those who live and deal with an increasing bear problem, has been one of the worst, and builds upon a trend that started with the cancellation of the spring hunt.

I had the opportunity last week to speak with Jolanta Kowalski, a spokeswoman for the office of David Ramsay, the present Minister for Natural Resources for Ontario. Ms. Kowalski says that she is not convinced the increase of nuisance bears has anything to do with the cancellation. “Our evidence shows that there is no correlation whatsoever to the number of bear complaints and the spring hunt.” she said. To be fair, I have looked up a similar study undertaken by the State of New Jersey, an area similar in geography to our own. The results that they came up with were in line with the claims made by Ms. Kowalski. The study stated that the bear problem increased when pressure was felt by a dwindling natural food supply, and was exacerbated by careless placement of dumps by local governments, and by residents who were not vigilant about securing their garbage.

The study went on to suggest that the solution was not to reinstate the bear hunt, as this had no effect on the number of complaints. Instead, more money and time should be invested in supplying municipalities and citizens with bear-proof receptacles. Where there is less readily available food, there are less bears.

At the same time, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, at the urging of hunting lobbies and citizens wishes, has extended the fall bear hunt by 4 additional weeks. Ms. Kowalski laments the fact that out of 1,081 extra bear tags issued this year, only 100 of them have been purchased.

Having said all of that, the fact that there still remains a bear problem in northern Ontario cannot be denied. When the Chairman of Canadian Outdoor Heritage Alliance (COHA), Bob McQuay wrote to Minister Ramsay suggesting that bears be reintroduced into southern Ontario, the minister replied that “moving the bears south would be allowing the bear problems from the north to be repeated in the southern part of the province.”

While both sides seem to agree to disagree, one has to wonder why the province is so set against reinstating the spring bear hunt. If it doesn’t add to the problems, what harm would it do? Are the decisions that are being made based on science, or political pressure being applied by special interest environmental lobbies? One line of thinking is that the spring bear hunt leads to cubs being orphaned, thus it may endanger the bear population

At the present time, this seems very unlikely. Whatever the thinking behind the political decisions being made, one thing is certain. There are more bears venturing into populated areas, and as much as we wish to help the wildlife, the safety of the people who live and work in the north must take precedent, and as long as our northern neighbours feel endangered, more must be done to reduce these nuisance bears.