The decision to extend Ontario’s bear hunt pilot program was not based on the best available science or precautionary measures

Canada’s diverse wilderness and wildlife are some of our country’s most important natural assets, and should be protected by the strongest environmental laws and regulations in the world. Those laws and regulations should be based on the best available science and data, and developed using a precautionary approach that includes protective measures.

That’s why, after the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) failed to take a precautionary approach when proposing regulatory amendments to extend and expand its Spring Black Bear Hunt Pilot Project, we decided to voice our concern.

The proposed amendments to the Spring Bear Hunt Pilot Project would see an extension of the program from its initial two-year program to five years. The amendments would also expand the geographic range of the project and open it up to both residents and non-residents.

The proposal also leaves many questions unanswered. After running the pilot project for two years, the MNRF has been unable to adequately evaluate the project due to insufficient data. Despite this, the decision was made to amend regulations to extend the pilot project and open it up to a wider group of people. The lack of a clear and precautionary scientific basis for the proposed amendments is worrisome to say the least.

In addition to the lack of solid scientific evidence to support the expansion, our overarching concern with the proposed amendments is that they are unlikely to achieve their stated goal – to reduce human-bear conflicts in northern Ontario communities. Research has shown that increased hunting does not reduce human-bear conflicts, and the spring hunt has little to no impact on nuisance bear activity. A 2003 report by the Nuisance Bear Review Committee found that over 50 per cent of the nuisance bear complaints it reviewed involved the presence of food attractants that were considered easily removable. These findings mean that easy access to garbage and other bear attractants, like barbeques and grease, combined with shortages in natural food availability, were key factors in human-bear interactions — and not necessarily overpopulation.

While the spring hunt may not have a significant ecological impact on the province’s overall black bear population, the consequences of errors can be significant. The project proposes to continue to prohibit the killing of females accompanied by cubs. However, because mother bears often leave their cubs while searching for food, there is potential for hunters to unknowingly kill mothers without visible cubs in the area, thereby orphaning their cubs. It seems to us that MNRF is placing higher value on the anticipated economic benefits to hunters and local economies than on the potential risk of orphaning cubs.

It is essential that government decision-making in environmental matters, including those relating to regulated harvests of wild animals, be supported and based on the best available evidence, scientific knowledge and successful management practices. The government’s proposed amendments to the Spring Black Bear Hunt Pilot Project has, in our opinion, not lived up to these standards and may instead result in adverse effects for the Ontario black bear population — including orphaned cubs.

You can read our comments about the MNRF’s proposed amendments, here.

Photo by Jitze Couperus

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