Let Sleeping Bears Lie…
The Ontario government ended the spring bear hunt in 1999 with conservationists, including wildlife advocacy organizations and bear biologists, applauding the decision. Fast forward to 2013, consider the predicament we are in today. MPP Bill Mauro (Liberal, Thunder Bay-Atikokan) introduced a private members bill in the legislature to re-instate the spring bear hunt. One might suspect the private bill is a political move well-calculated to gain constituent appeal and votes. Naturally this bill is backed by claims of a hunting lobby that the spring bear hunt will manage bear populations and reduce the incidents of nuisance bears. Such claims are self-serving and fail to address sustainable bear conservation.The suggestion to reinstate the spring bear hunt is not only unethical; it lacks common sense or sound science.
Our tax dollars supported the Bear Wise Program, a public education and awareness initiative that fostered bear coexistence and which was implemented by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). It was a solid program in practice that promoted bear safe education, offered curbside garbage protocol and highlighted the vital connections between food attractants such as bird feeders and bears that overstayed their welcome. Most importantly, the program encouraged non-lethal, sustainable conflict resolution and coexistence strategies for communities. Through the Bear Wise program, MNR skilled bear technicians were ready to assist with bear encounters and human/bear conflicts.
A short-sighted move by the Ontario Government has left Bear Wise gutted, without funding and trained staff. Residents, politicians, front line wildlife responders and law enforcement are now without the appropriate support and non-lethal options that was once the glowing torch of a successful bear education program.
MNR reminds communities to be “Bear Wise” this fall season in an article featured in Northern News. Effective safety and prevention tips are relayed to readers with the same message throughout – do not attract bears, do not feed bears. The tips are excellent about outdoor safety and wildlife proofing property.
There is one critical missing link in any discussion about the Bear Wise program and the rhetoric about reinstating the spring bear hunt. No one is talking about baiting. Many Ontario residents are unaware that bears and other wildlife are baited with heaps of junk food put out to attract them day after day until hunting season. As it stands, this practice is not illegal under The Fish and Wildlife Act.
Baiting bears to attract, entrap and kill them is a contradiction of MNR Bear Wise policies, is it not? The baiting of any animal for the purpose of hunting is just not fair and it is an act of ultimate deception and betrayal. For the ethical hunter, baiting is an offensive activity, sloppy and lazy. Baiting wildlife is wreaking havoc on both our human and wildlife communities. It is no wonder wildlife is conveniently deemed a danger, or a nuisance by the consumptive minority crying for the reinstating of the spring bear hunt. Our community messages about coexistence are inconsistent- “don’t attract, don’t feed animals,” but it is acceptable to bait. Day after day, year after year…
What have we done to the species that are impacted by the supply of nutritionally poor food subsidies? What are we doing to our wildlife? Killing more bears in the spring, orphaning cubs will not resolve the mess we have created.
End bear baiting and reinstate the Bear Wise program with trained staff and funding.
Since the end of the spring bear hunt, our wild lands have become an inhumane fast food dispenser for unsuspecting hungry bears and other wildlife species such as wolves, coyotes, and fishers. Coming across a scattered “bait yard or station” is a disturbing experience. Plastic barrels, drums, garbage, rotting carcasses, slaughter house by-products, donuts, grease and fruit are some of the odorous bait attractants left about. Trail cams are strategically set up to capture any and all wild visitors. This provides photo information about daily visit times, physical attributes and number of animal species to the hunter. Hunting blinds are set up in trees where the human sits and waits for the bear which is then shot from above while feeding at the bait pile or from a barrel. These bait yards are located on crown land, old railway beds, public land and private property. A bear that is considered too “small” to trophy kill becomes habituated and reliant on junk food.
Some examples of baiting recipes include:
[code]I have heard of people use dog food with oil or popcorn[/code]
[code]Donuts, blocks of candy would be ideal, 4 way grain with mollases, dog food with bacon greese poured on it. (sic)[/code]
[code]My guide on a recent hunt used dog food, table scraps, licorice powder and stale baked goods. By the time the guide got done it looked good enough to eat. The bears loved it!![/code]
Baiting habituates not only the target wildlife but the people that take part in such an activity.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) outlines the negative impact baiting has on bear behaviour. HSUS states that Tom Beck, a hunter and a bear biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, opposes baiting. “I firmly believe that baiting creates ‘nuisance’ bears,” he says. “Black bears are naturally wary, instinctively avoiding close contact with humans. But a large amount of tasty food, easily obtained, defeats this wariness. By baiting, we create lazy bears who have been rewarded, not punished, for overcoming their fear of humans.”Killing more bears in a spring bear hunt amounts to more orphaned cubs, more bait piles with human household waste, more garbage in wildlife habitat and more bears that will become less wary of humans.
Mike McIntosh, president of Bear With Us.org who has worked tirelessly for over twenty years educating the public about bear coexistence. Mike also provides vital life saving work through his rehabilitation and sanctuary efforts for Ontario bears that come under his care. Mike has this to say about the reinstatement of a spring bear hunt.
“If a spring bear hunt exists, mother bears will be killed regardless of any legal restrictions. Mother bears are killed leaving behind orphaned cubs that are left alone to perish. To effectively ensure that there are no orphaned cubs from spring hunting we cannot have a spring hunt. Baiting bears has the potential to create nuisance bears. Baiting ultimately trains them to look for human sourced food. Orphan cubs are just one concern regarding hunting bears in the spring. There are several other reasons that justify no spring hunt and each stands alone as reason enough to not hunt bears in the spring. There are no good reasons to have a spring hunt, no reasons that are honest.”
Coexistence models for other species including coyotes strongly support the enactment of a feeding wildlife by-law partnered with education and prevention programs at the municipal level. Our message to each other and wildlife must be consistent, realistic and fair if we expect to see positive sustainable returns from each other and our wild neighbours.
End the careless baiting of wildlife. Encourage appropriate wildlife behaviour by setting a good example by acting as careful, caring stewards of our natural world. Do not feed wildlife, their lives depend on it. Finally, just say no to the reinstating of the spring bear hunt. Let sleeping bears lie…