Science-based wildlife management has apparently prevailed over politics at Queen’s Park when it comes to the issue of Ontario’s spring black bear hunt. In simultaneous press conferences held earlier today, the province announced plans to expand its two-year-old spring bear hunting pilot program to include all 88 wildlife management units that currently offer a fall hunt.
As well, non-resident hunters will also be able to participate in the hunt, which has been extended through to 2020. Previously under the pilot, only eight WMUs were included—all of which report high levels of nuisance bear activity—and only residents could hunt.
The announcement represents a de facto return to the spring bear hunt regime of pre-1999, the year animal rights activists pushed the then Conservative government of Premier Mike Harris to suspend the hunt. That move was economically devastating to northern Ontario communities that relied on the cash-injection from visiting American sportsmen. In the first year of the ban, for example, outfitters alone lost an estimated $17.6 million, according to the non-profit Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Association.
It was only in 2014 that the now Liberal government first brought back the hunt on a limited basis, largely to appease the northern communities of Timmins, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay, which are battling a rise in so-called nuisance bears. It is believed by many that the end of the spring hunt is a key factor in the burgeoning bruin population, which some hunters also blame for the decline in game populations.
So far, however, the pilot hasn’t put much of a dent in the bear population. Only 847 hunters participated in the 2014 spring hunt, which saw the harvest of just 193 black bears during the May 1 to June 15 season. In contrast, the province had 20,000 licensed bear hunters prior to the ban, and some 4,000 animals were harvested each spring.
In Peterborough, the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Jeff Leal, announced the news at the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters’ Mario Cortellucci Hunting & Fishing Heritage Centre. Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Bill Mauro made a simultaneous announcement in Thunder Bay.
Under the proposal to expand the pilot spring hunt, it would remain illegal to hunt females with cubs, as well as cubs—a crime that carries a maximum fine of $25,000 and a year in jail.
For the reaction from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, which has been instrumental in lobbying the province to reinstate the hunt, click here.
And for the official Government of Ontario press release, click here.