Following the current logic on why Ontario has introduced and expanded its spring bear hunt is a bit like starting to watch a soap opera half way through. And the layers of politics are clouding the real fight that must be going on in provincial offices between biologists and economists.
There is no doubt that the spring bear hunt is a money maker for Northern Ontario communities. Hunters from across Ontario, Canada, and the United States swarm to the small cities for their chance to hunt a black bear. Baiting takes place year-round to make it more likely that a bear will show up for a regular treat – to be killed on the spot by a high-powered rifle. One analyst estimated that millions could be made by opening up the spring hunt, which was originally cancelled in the 90s due to political concerns about orphaning of cubs, ethics, and a lack of scientific evidence.
The Ministry of Natural Resources originally stated that their two-year pilot project, which is now a full hunt, was a result of community safety fears – that nuisance bear calls were increasing, and that children were at risk. But in a government report, top scientists within the Ministry noted that a spring hunt would in no way affect nuisance bear calls or safety – citing science and reports from multiple other jurisdictions. Prior to the announcement of the pilot project, the province’s successful bear smart program had been scaled back from in-field solutions and community educational initiatives to a hotline and website with fact sheets.
When the Ministry announced they would expand the hunt, their purpose had grown: it was then community safety as well as an economic program for Northern communities. But in recent weeks, guide outfitters who stood to profit from American hunters coming in to kill black bears put up a stink – the number of hunters they were allowed to take out was limited.
“If I had known we were going to get quotas, I would have lobbied against the spring bear hunt. Absolutely," one guide outfitter told the CBC. "There's no rhyme or reason to have a spring bear hunt if you can'tmarket it to your American guests."
A Ministry spokesperson noted that the number of out-of-province hunters was based on previous data for the fall hunt, and limited to ensure “the bear population isn't hit too hard by extra hunting.”
But in another article within one week, that same ministry spokesperson stated that “we've extended the spring bear hunt pilot because we are committed to assisting those communities and to support economic growth and tourism in northern and central Ontario."
There are clearly economic reasons for a spring hunt. There are clearly ecological reasons for limiting such a hunt. There are clearly ethical reasons for ending a spring hunt. But none of these are being truthfully discussed because the government is too busy playing politics – and in the meantime, everyone loses – the bears most of all.