On October 30, MPP Jeff Leal, Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs, made an announcement at the Peterborough Hunters and Anglers Club that caused Ontario bear hunters to come out of the woodwork.
In 1999, the Ontario government announced that it would be abolishing the spring season hunt, leaving fall as the only permitted time to hunt for bears in Ontario.
In 2013, a two-year pilot project to reinstate the spring hunt was passed for a total of 8 out of 95 wildlife areas in Ontario.
On Friday, Minister Leal announced that this project was approved to be extended for an additional five years through to 2020, and will now include all Ontario wildlife areas.
A representative from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) took to the podium before introducing Minister Leal and presented a brief outline of the benefits that would come subsequent to the implementation of the spring bear hunt in Ontario.
“[The spring bear hunt] will benefit the hunting community across the province, it will increase economic opportunities for northern and rural Ontario, as well as promote and enhance tourism opportunities, while at the same time, assist in the conservation of our valued natural resources,” Minister Leal explained.
According to an information sheet that was handed out to media personnel prior to the announcement, the Ontario spring hunt, in 1996 alone, generated $43 million in revenue for the province.
This number is inclusive of factors such as the visiting (or local) hunters’ need for fuel, permits, bait, equipment, etc., as well as also contributed to the employment of over 3,000 people in Ontario.
Minister Leal goes on to highlight the issue in Ontario of a growing over-population of black bears after the spring hunt season was abolished in 1999. The OFAH described this pilot project as a proactive way of controlling what they would now consider an “invasive species.”
“We have come to the conclusion, in the time since 1999, that there is a problem with safety of humans, with the safety of schoolyards, and certainly the impact on tourism, particularly in northern Ontario,” said Minister Leal.
He went on to emphasize the destructive implications that black bears (specifically) are having on farmers’ crops and residents’ homes. Another area of concern that has been addressed by the OFAH is the allegations of orphaning bear cubs during the hunt in the spring season.
The OFAH claims that, of 25,000 bear cubs, approximately 10,000 will die due to either starvation or cannibalism at the hand of adult male bears.
The OFAH goes on to deny the allegations set forth by undisclosed animal rights activists who claim 270 bear cubs are orphaned each year due to the spring bear hunt, claiming this number was fabricated under blatant misinterpretation of government data, and on the basis of a number of “what-if” scenarios.
The OFAH took some time to reiterate some basic rules of the bear hunt, which include a maximum of one bear per year whether it be in the spring or fall (except where second seals are available). The Federation also made it clear that there are harsh repercussions for any violators, which include a fine of up to $25,000 and/or one year in prison.
However, despite these harsh penalties, there are inevitably cases where bear cubs are orphaned due to hunting. The problem here is the process, or lack thereof, of investigation tied to these cases.
When speaking with a representative of the OFAH following the announcement, I inquired on how, if a hunter had accidentally killed a female bear that turned out to have some cubs in tow, that hunter would proceed? The representative informed me that there is a high degree of stewardship and honour among the hunting community, and this hunter would likely report the mishap to the ministry.
My question, to which I received no answer, was, “If there are such strict repercussions, and virtually no investigation process, why would anyone report themselves?”
The orphaning of bear cubs due to the spring season hunt may be something the OFAH would want to pay close attention to when reviewing this project in 2020. Minister Leal and OFAH closed off by stating how stewardship within the hunting community always has, and always will be paramount in the efforts to ensure Ontario’s hunting and fishing resources will be available for generations to come. These changes will be enacted immediately, and the first spring bear hunt for the remaining wildlife areas in Ontario will be open on May 1, 2016.