Friday, July 13, 2007

The Only Good Bear....

A couple days ago, I read an article, detailing increased bear/human conflict in Central Ontario. Not surprisingly, this spike in potentially dangerous encounters, has given the pro-spring bear hunt lobby new ammunition, too argue the government's 1999 decision to ban the spring bear hunt is the culprit.

There is no evidence to suggest the bear population is increasing:
The Ministry of Natural Resources disputes this notion, saying on its website,, that the bear population could have increased as much as 7.5 per cent per year since the cancellation of the spring hunt , but it's "extremely unlikely."

Jolanta Kowalski, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Natural Resources, says the bear population has remained consistent in Ontario with anywhere from 75,000 to 100,000 bears, although certain areas seem to be experienced an increase in occurences.

I've never been a big fan of bear "hunting" in general, which seems to consist mostly of half-drunk Americans, sitting in a tree, with a bait station below, enticing the bears, then firing a shot or arrow at close range, with NO skill required. I liken the "sport" to nothing more than visiting a garbage dump and shooting a bear from the back of a pickup. You have to wonder about the ethics of habituating the bears to the bait, given weeks in advance of the actual hunt, to ensure a huntable population for the big dollar Americans. The meat is secondary, what is really prized is the picture with the carcass, not to mention the pelt. My opinion is besides the point, the fall bear hunt will continue and it does provide revenue for economically challenged areas in the north.

Before someone accuses me of being an ignorant "southern Ontario" elitist, I should point out that I once worked in Algonquin Park and was lucky enough to spend some time with the biologist doing bear research. I also lived in rural British Columbia, where one summer we had a nightly visitor and her two cubs, which made late night exits from the car to the house quite interesting. I've had a few close calls, that turned my stool to mush (nice visual). In other words, I'm quite familar with living in bear country, and I appreciate and respect the risks.

What bothers me about the complaints, is people seem to want to be in nature, but they would prefer the sanitized version, without the nuisance of actual potential predators:
At the Delta Rocky Crest Resort, a 65-room resort on Hamer Bay in Parry Sound, general manager Alan Boivin says most sightings occur on the prized golf course, but staff is so fearful of a bear encounter that employess don’t walk alone to the trash bin at the clubhouse.

At the Cranberry Cove Resort, which has 43 rooms on 43 acres in Muskoka, owner Shawn Leon, 48, says some vacationers are “quite stupid” that they walk up to bears hoping to snap a close-up picture.

Leon says repeated calls to the Ministry of Natural Resources to set more traps go unanswered and he’s thinking of calling in the police to shoot them. “From a liability standpoint, we don’t want bears on the property because we have guests,” he said. “We can’t fence the whole property.”

Sandy Cornell, assistant manager at Clevelands House, says the ministry needs to set more traps.

If a bear is aggressive, then that animal must be shot for obvious reasons. However, people must accept the reality that bear/human encounters are part of the package, when you visit these areas. As a matter of fact I've always thought that was part of the allure, food chain and such. People are encroaching on bear habitat, so pardon me if I'm not terribly sympathetic to bears on the "golf course" or dangerously close to the "resort". Deal with it, there is a slight risk, that's the reality. Off my soapbox now :)


Karen said...

I have to agree. I don't understand hunting to begin with, but I especially hate it in the context you described.

Years ago, we bought an old farm house that had about 14 acres. Some fields, but mostly wooded. 2 days after moving in, I had 4 guys at the door, asking me if it was okay to hunt deer in the woods. I was appalled and said no, to which I received a curt, "oh, you're from the city right?" While I have spent much of my life in urban centres, I've also lived in the country.

It's funny to me that rural people always refer to those in the city as elite, snobs, etc. Truth is, they fail to see their own arrogance and reverse snobbery.

Anyway, when we encroach on natural habitats, I don't think we have the right change it, to suit our image of what it should be.

Steve V said...

Knb, I'm actually okay with the deer hunt :) By all accounts, in my area at least, the population is exploding. Because the ecosystem is disturbed, with no natural predators for balance, a reasonable harvest maintains equilibrum. Also, all of the hunters that I know do so for the meat, as opposed to antlers, photos and all the macho psychology.

I guess I differentiate between hunting for food and ego. As it relates to people wanting their nature tame and beneign, I suggest they don't venture into areas where that illusion doesn't jive with reality.

Gayle said...

My brother, who is a hunter (and has also hunted bear) says that we are encroaching on the bears' territory, and they are just fighting back, and there is nothing wrong with that!

While I do not hunt, I have no problem with hunters. After all, the deer have a better chance of escaping than the cows do!

As for the bear traps, a friend of mine once got himself trapped in the bear trap after a night of drinking.

Gayle said...

Just thought I would share that :).

northwestern_lad said...

Steve V... while I am not a hunter, I have got to take issue with you on this topic. I was born and raised in Northwestern Ontario and lived in the North for 24 years. I moved to the South back in 2003, and I lived through the effects of the cancellation of the spring bear hunt for 4 years.

Let me tell you, the problem is not with hunters, the problem is having starving bears coming into the towns and cities in the spring, starving, looking for food because there is none in the bush. More bears are living, thus there is less food and they get desperate for food. TVO shot a good documentary about this problem about 5 years ago, where they followed around Kenora Animal Control officers has they dealt with bears coming into town and peoples yards. Two of the bears that they trapped in that documentary were trapped within two blocks of where I was living at the time, which was right in the downtown area.

The city of Kenora and other northern communities that have been affected by this are not growing, so they have not been encroaching on the habitats of bears. The fact is that these bears are starving and coming into the cities.

Now, I don't take what you're saying as a "city dwelling southerner", but you have to look at this from the point of view of a Northerner. If there were bears being removed from the downtowns and back yards of homes in Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Oshawa and Mississauga on a daily basis, what do you think the response would be??? That's where I think many northerners (myself included) get offended. It's like Queen's Park is saying that their safety or the safety of their kids doesn't matter.

To me, this is where "one size fits all" policies and laws just don't work. Why can't we have parts of the province where this is allowed and other parts of the province where it's not needed??? I think that would be a good compromise.

Karen said...

Because the ecosystem is disturbed, with no natural predators for balance, a reasonable harvest maintains equilibrum.

I've seen both fox and coyote go after small deer. I hear what you're saying, but I'm just against hunting period. I do have family members who hunt though. One of those subjects, like religion and politics, that we never bring up, :). Oh, one in particular is a separtist too, lol.

Also, all of the hunters that I know do so for the meat,

No grocery stores in the area? ;)

Karen said...

Ouch gayle!

Steve V said...


I bet that is quite the story :)

northwest lad

I appreciate your perspective, but it is noteworthy that the link I provided said that problems with bears are actually down this year in more northern regions of the province.

From year to year, there may be fluctuation in food sources, but as you say, with no "growth", I doubt seriously that bears are starving on a yearly basis. Take the communities out of the equation, and any hunting, would you have starving bears all over the place? I doubt it, there would be a natural balance. I might add, bear reproduction is such, that the population can't explode in short order, so the spring bear hunt argument seems scientifically flimsy in my mind. Just some thoughts.


People around here refer to the woodlots as the grocery store :)

Gayle said...

It wasn't me KNB - honest. He was not hurt, but when they rescued him the next morning he smelled like rotting meat.

Serves him right, I say.

Anonymous said...

Our summer cottage is in the Kawarthas at Sturgeon Point, between Fenelon Falls and Bobcaygeon. Not so very far north. Bears are now present every spring and summer. Where 10 years ago there could be a bear in the village trying to get into the garbage every few weeks there's now a bear around more than once a week. Could be the same bear could be more than one - I've never stopped one to ask.

However, home is in North Vancouver which is another story altogether.

Our winters are getting warm enough that there is some concern that they won't hibernate at all. They certainly hibernate very late already. This wasn't a large issue last winter but it was for the preceding few.

We've had bears wandering about in the local shopping mall. Heavily populated, fully urbanized area. We had one at the foot of our driveway, 60 feet away from a busy thoroughfare. We had a mother and cub strolling the townhouse complex. In the local green areas that the District of North Vancouver has mandated must be maintained between neighbourhoods you'd best make noise and walk your dog on a leash.

This area has been populated by humans for 50 years - more of us now of course - but my point is that the bears are moving back in due to changing seasons and scarcity of food.

Steve V said...


I confess I don't understand the co-relation between not hibernating, which is the result of lack of food and scarcity of food. Do you know what I mean? The lack of hibernation suggests a prolonged food source. I lived in Vancouver in 92, north Van is a heck of a lot more populated now then it was then. Encroachment?

Anonymous said...

A combination of not cold enough, not enough snow and too few sources of high fat foods to support the growing population is the way I read the explanation.

Part of which could have to do with encroachment I guess.

Karen said...

northwestern lad...the issue is then, their food supply. Why is it down and wouldn't it make better sense to provide them food, in the area you want to restrict them to?

Steve...ugh, :).

Gayle, I didn't think it was you, lol. I just thought the story deserved an OUCH!

I should go on record here as being a huge wildlife proponent. I've started brining home strays when I was 6, much to my mother's dismay.

Lo, all these years later, it's only become a stronger issue for me. So dana, when I read what you wrote, I'm more concerned about what is happening with the bears, or rather to the bears, to cause this.

It's hard not to say it, so I will, I think it has to be us.

Canajun said...

Part of the problem is that people are so frightened of them that they feel the only good bear is a dead bear. I seem to recall reading that there have been only two fatal black bear-human encounters in Canada in over 100 years - pretty good odds by my book, especially when lightening strikes kill that many or more every couple of weeks in the summer.
We live in bear country and regularly see bears in the area. If we're out for a walk or run, we carry bear spray, but in reality expect any bears to be long gone by the time we get to where they were. As someone else posted, we're in their space and have to respect that.

Steve V said...

"I seem to recall reading that there have been only two fatal black bear-human encounters in Canada in over 100 years"

There have been more than that, I think you are referring to Algonquin Park, where there have been two separate incidents. Just as an aside, the biologist's study in Algonquin was started in the aftermath of the predatory attack that killed two people on an inland on Opeongo Lake. The study looked at large male bears. He took me to visit some of the winter dens, one of which was determined through DNA to be the direct offspring of the bear that killed the two people. That was interesting to say the least.

Anonymous said...

Bears are a problem in some northern communities. In order to deal with the population pressure the bears should be trapped and released in the Don Valley in Toronto so all the people of Ontario can enjoy them.

Steve V said...


Here is good list of all fatal bear attacks since 1900.

Anonymous said...

It's the stray criminal gang people they should be more worried about.

Just think - in a day when we can shop for our food - people are out there killing animals for fun and sport. "Killing" for fun and sport - how twisted.

Anonymous said...

But what do they taste like?