The Government of Ontario is proposing to permanently bring back the spring bear hunt – a reckless move opposed by a range of conservation and animal protection groups across the province. Through its Environmental Registry of Ontario (ERO) posting, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is accepting comments from the public until February 18, 2020.
History of the spring bear hunt in Ontario
During the spring bear hunt, hunters bait hungry black bears as they emerge from a winter without food, shooting them at bait sites. Females who have recently given birth are particularly attracted to bait, given that they emerge from their dens in worse body condition than other bears, having lost up to 40% of their body weight.
In 1999, Ontario’s spring bear hunt was cancelled to protect bear cubs from being orphaned when their hungry mothers were shot after emerging from months of hibernation. In 2003, the Ministry established the Nuisance Bear Review Committee to undertake an independent assessment of the spring hunt on so-called “nuisance bear activity”. The Committee found no evidence that the spring bear hunt reduced human-bear conflict.
In 2014 and 2016, Ontario implemented spring bear hunt pilot programs to assess the impact of the hunt on human-bear conflict. Although the results of these two pilot projects would presumably be relevant to deciding whether or not to make the spring bear hunt permanent, the Government of Ontario does not mention these studies in its ERO posting, nor did it release the results.
By any measure, the spring bear hunt is a bad idea
Encouraging non-resident trophy hunters to bait and kill bears for sport as they emerge from hibernation is unethical. Indeed, Ontario technically prohibits the killing of cubs or females, but only when they are accompanied by cubs—but this is impossible to enforce.
Often, mother bears leave their cubs in nearby trees or elsewhere as they forage, meaning that there is a good chance that cubs will not be in sight as their mother approaches a bait site, only to be shot by waiting hunters. Females are, and will continue to be, killed during the spring bear hunt. When a lactating mother is killed, her orphaned cubs are also likely to die, either of starvation or by being killed by other predators.
There is no evidence that the spring bear hunt improves human safety. Advocates for the hunt often argue it will reduce human-bear conflict, but time and again studies have shown that the spring bear hunt does not improve human safety. Rather, easy access to garbage, barbecues, and other easily removable attractants, as well as scarcity in natural food availability, are key factors in human-bear interactions.
From an environmental standpoint, black bears are known for their low reproduction rates, making the survival of adult females, who reach sexual maturity late in life and have few offspring, particularly important for the species.
In its ERO posting, Ontario notes the need to reduce black bear hunting on the Saugeen-Bruce Peninsula due to serious conservation concerns, yet it is still proposing to allow hunting and trapping of these animals for one week each spring. Allowing any hunting of black bears on the Saugeen-Bruce Peninsula is irresponsible and contrary to the government’s duty to ensure the sustainability of the population now and into the future.
Even the economic case for the spring bear hunt is weak. In its ERO posting, the government states that the economic impact is expected to be neutral or positive, but it provides no evidence in support of this claim. The posting also fails to reference financial benefits associated with promoting eco-tourism and encouraging visitors to view and photograph, rather than shoot, these majestic animals. Many have questioned whether the proposal will have any significant financial benefit.
Stop the spring bear hunt
There is no cultural or economic justification for allowing hunters to lure hungry black bears using bait and shoot these unsuspecting animals for sport.
The government’s strongest argument in favour of permanently reinstating the spring bear hunt is that it will provide certainty to hunters and tourist outfitters. Given the disastrous consequences of the hunt for bears and cubs across the province, a desire for certainty is hardly a justification. Certainty would best be achieved by permanently cancelling this cruel and unnecessary killing game, instead of bowing to the powerful hunting lobby instead.
Please act now and tell the government to ban the spring bear hunt.
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