Residents voice concern with ministry cuts on nuisance bear program

Tom Sasvari

The Recorder

MANITOULIN—Residents of Manitoulin who have dealt with nuisance bears in their yards are perplexed and upset with the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) scaling back its efforts on the prevention of bear attacks.

Smokey Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, says Ontario residents face greater danger from bears this year because of these cutbacks. He told the Recorder the number of staff trained to deal with bears that threaten public safety has been cut by more than half, explaining that changes to the Bear Wise education and response program are among what he terms ill-advised cuts at the MNR. The ministry has 21 technicians in 15 Northern Ontario communities, down from 48 in 25 communities.

Ministry cuts mean they will no longer set traps, relocate bears, or make on-site visits to landowners who are having conflicts with bears.

“I don’t know what to make of this,” stated Vincente Belenson of Manitoulin, who had a nuisance bear problem two years ago (in which the animal was trapped and relocated by MNR personnel to another location). “I don’t know what to make of all of this. I can understand the province making cuts, in a lot of places they are justified, but there are certain things we need, and the MNR personnel being available when someone has a nuisance bear on their property is one of those, especially in Northern Ontario.

“The idiots in Toronto don’t know anything about the North and bears—to them the world stops at the border of North York,” he continued. “They obviously know nothing about Northern Ontario.”

“We were in Parkhill all winter, and coming back home (to Manitoulin) was like coming back to a different country,” said Mr. Belenson. “What do I do if I see a bear walking around our property? Already I’m hesitant to go into the woods behind my house because of the nuisance bear we had here a couple of years ago. I didn’t vote for the present Liberal government.”

Miriam Wailes also had a problem with nuisance bears on her property a couple of years ago. “I was told by the MNR that if this or another bear was to come back I could shoot it to protect my property, and I have to keep going with that.”

As for the MNR cutbacks, “It is stupidity—this is one of their functions. They are supposed to be dealing with wildlife,” said Ms. Wailes. “As far as I can see there will be a lot of individuals who will take the law in their hands and do it themselves (taking care of nuisance bears). But a wounded bear is horrendous. When Joe Q Public wounds a bear and it goes into someone else’s yard, what are they going to do, call the OPP, the army? Obviously we can’t call the MNR.”

“Unless someone is a hunter and knows specifically where to aim and shoot a nuisance bear this could be a huge problem,” she continued. “A lot of people don’t have this knowledge and I’m afraid we could see an increase in the number of wounded bears around.”

Bobby Tuomi, who used to be a bear guide said, “I’ve heard guys having problems in Sudbury with nuisance bears already this year. They will call the MNR nuisance bear hotline, and they don’t do anything or respond, and these guys then have to call the police. They tell me it seems no one seems to care about the problems.”

“All the bear prevention tips from the MNR say is hide your barbecue, keep it clean and hide it along with garbage in your shed, but in some cases they have torn down sheds to get at a barbecue,” said Mr. Tuomi. “Here on the Island we are lucky because we can take care of business on our own in cases of nuisance bear, but in the city, people can’t shoot them because they have neighbours, and the wounded bear could become a problem for them.”

“It is not us as hunters who have caused all these problems it is the do-gooders that wanted the spring bear hunt cancelled, and now the MNR won’t even help to take care of these nuisance bear,” said Mr. Tuomi.

In the Tuesday, May 8, 2012 edition of the Sault Star, MNR Minister Michael Gravelle confirmed Ontario’s Bear Wise program will cease the trapping and relocation of problem bears this year.

Mr. Gravelle said trapping and relocation is the least effective tool of the program to deal with the problem of nuisance bears because statistics show that the bears just come back. He pointed out the MNR is maintaining all elements of the program except the trapping and relocation,”

Mr. Gravelle told the Star the Bear Wise program was designed as an education and awareness effort to prevent human contact with bears or, in the alternative, provide them with the knowledge they need to get out of a contact situation.

The program, which maintains a 24 hour hotline, website and emergency technicians, will still exist as part of the program, but for several years now, the program has instructed Ontarians to call 911 in an emergency situation and let police handle the situation, said Mr. Gravelle. MNR technicians will still aid police during emergencies and provide police with assistance, keeping the lines of communication between the two open.

People in areas without bear technicians will have to call local or Ontario Provincial Police, depending on where they are. That diverts police resources from other areas, says Ed Evens, president of OPSEU Local 703 in Sioux Lookout and an elected representative for OPSEU members of the MNR.

“This is an inappropriate response, since police are not trained to deal with wildlife,” Mr. Evens says. “We think the ministry changes will lead to a lot more bears being shot by homeowners and police. Right now, the bear population is stable. At this time of year, when you shoot a bear, you run the risk of killing a mother and leaving cubs on their own. Clearly, cuts to the Bear Wise program are bad for people and not so good for the bears either.”