Persistence pays off for spring bear hunters

by Lezlie Goodwin | November 10, 2015

Bear bait location.I wasn’t a hunter back in 1999, but I do recall hearing about the cancellation of Ontario’s spring bear hunt on the radio.

It made little sense to me. Why cancel the spring hunt but keep the fall one, and if populations were healthy, why cancel anything?

I later learned that the “orphaned bear cubs” argument was a campaign strategy used by those opposed to hunting, not a concern raised by wildlife managers. It was a dark day for all when politics trumped science. The cancellation of the spring bear hunt wasn’t just a blow to hunters, it negatively impacted many northern Ontario outfitters and their communities.

When I went to work for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) in late 2007, I quickly saw that a spring bear hunt was still very much on its agenda. Despite losing a court challenge that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, the Federation – backed by its members – did not give up the fight to have it reinstated. Yet it would be eight more years of advocacy, and a two-year pilot spring hunt, before the glorious news.

On Friday, October 30, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) announced (in two locations, no less), its proposal to extend and expand the spring bear hunt!

Almost 17 years after its cancellation, the hunt is close to returning to all wildlife management units that have a fall hunt (88 in total) and reopening to non-resident hunters, at least until 2020. These changes are key, because Americans made up a significant percentage of spring bear hunters prior to 1999, and their return will provide economic opportunities in northern Ontario.

A little concerning is the proposal to regulate baiting. The Ontario Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) suggestion that bait contents be limited to 10 kilograms seems both too small an amount and virtually impossible to monitor. It will be important to get this section right, as the regs will apply to both spring and fall bear hunts.

If you are a bear hunter, or just an engaged hunter, I encourage you to go to the EBR website, hit the “Submit Comment” button at the right hand side of the screen, and fill out the simple online form to share your views on the proposed hunt. Your government is promising to take all input into consideration in finalizing its proposal. Note: the deadline is Nov. 30, 2015.

An expanded spring bear hunt is great news, and will mean more sustainable hunting opportunities and economic benefits, both for northern Ontario communities and the government itself. Caps off to the MNRF for doing what’s right, and to the OFAH and its members for their persistence on this issue.