Local residents raise concerns with Manitoulin Isle not being included in spring bear hunt

MANITOULIN—While the province of Ontario has announced it has reinstated a spring bear hunt pilot project to address the bear problem issue in some areas of Northern Ontario, Manitoulin residents are wondering why the project doesn’t include the Island.

“There is certainly a need to reduce the bear population on Manitoulin,” said Jim Sloss, chair of the United Fish and Game Clubs of Manitoulin. “The increased bear population has been plaguing the Island for a number of years; there has definitely been an increase in their numbers on Manitoulin. There have been reports of bears breaking into hunt camps or unoccupied buildings, trailers and breaking into trash bins.”

Ontario has implemented a two-year pilot project that will see a limited bear hunt geared only to Northern Ontario where there are high incidents of nuisance bears in residential areas, David Orazietti, Minister of Natural Resources (MNR), announced last week.

The project is geared to help manage nuisance bear problems experienced in Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, North Bay, Thunder Bay and Timmins and will only be open to Ontario residents between May 10 and June 15 in 2014 and 2015. It will not allow the hunting of cubs or female bears with cubs and would require municipalities in those areas to opt into the program.

“I want to be crystal clear. We are not bringing back the spring bear hunt pre-1999, but we are taking very real action to address nuisance bears in parts of Northern Ontario that have the highest incidents through an early spring program,” Mr. Orazietti announced. He said the number of reports of nuisance bears, including residential areas, has increased in many communities and the primary focus of the program is public safety.

The number of reports of nuisance bears, including in residential areas, has increased in many communities and the primary focus of the program is public safety.

Minister Orazietti said the trap and release program, cancelled last year, was viewed as ineffective and the government has spent $34.5 million on the Bear Wise Program. The hotline doesn’t provide emergency services and was not designed to deal with serious and immediate problems as a result of the increased bear population. “Our government’s number one priority is public safety,” he said, noting this is a very real concern in these communities.

Bear incidents in residential areas are currently handled by law enforcement agencies, something they have said is not in their mandate or expertise.

Under the proposed pilot program, the limited scope of the hunt will be in Northern Ontario where the highest numbers of human bear incidents is reported. The bear management pilot program is permitted in wildlife management units 13, 14, 29,30, 36, 39, 41 and 42.

“On the record I’m humoured at all of this,” said Bobby Tuomi of Kagawong, a former big game hunt guide. He suggests the provincial government is proposing this initiative to get more votes in the next provincial election, and wondered why Manitoulin Island wasn’t included.

Vincente Belenson, who lives just outside of Gore Bay, had a close up encounter with a nuisance bear and its cubs a couple of years ago. He can’t understand why Manitoulin wasn’t included in the pilot project, as he pointed out there are a lot of bears on the Island. “I don’t own a gun or rifle and since the incident with the bear I’m afraid to go down by the lake behind by house even on an ATV because that is where the bear was. Who knows when another might come by.”

“Ontario’s spring bear hunt was a successful wildlife population management tool that assisted in maintaining the density of bears at levels that minimized dangerous encounters between people and bears, and controlled the population at a sustainable level. This was good for public safety and good for bears,” said Angelo Lombardo, executive director of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), in a press release. “Since the cancellation of the spring bear hunt in 1999, the OFAH has been advocating for a return of the hunt and we are pleased that the provincial government has finally recognized the value of this wildlife management tool and has proposed a bear management program in response to problem bears in Northern Ontario. While this is not the restoration of a full spring hunt, it is a positive start, and the OFAH looks forward to working with the provincial government and local municipalities so that the full benefits of regulated hunting can be realized.”

The absence of a spring bear hunt has created a severe public safety risk, with five bear attacks being reported across the province this year, pointed out Mr. Lombardo. Before its cancellation, the spring bear hunt also generated over $40 million per year in economic activity and sustained a number of jobs in Northern Ontario, jobs that have since flowed to the neighbouring provinces of Manitoba and Quebec, which continue to have hunts.

“The OFAH has been unwavering in its position that the spring bear hunt is a valuable wildlife management tool that enhances public safety and controls the bear population at optimum levels. The recent introduction of Bill 114 by Liberal MPP Bill Mauro has served to focus attention on this growing problem,” said Mr. Lombardo.

“This is a pilot project—it would be good if they reinstate the full program, and it would be good to see the MNR including Manitoulin in this,” said Mr. Sloss. “It would bring economic benefits to the area and is a humane way to bring the bear numbers down. The downside is that Manitoulin wasn’t included in this pilot project and we have to wait for the two years to be done and hopefully other areas including the Island will be included in the spring bear hunt in the future.”

 Tom Sasvari