Bear With Me


Last night, on the Agenda, (a provincial public affairs show on a provincial TV station) the topic discussed was the proposed pilot spring bear hunt in Ontario. This year, there is going to be a limited spring hunt, after it was cancelled 15 years ago.

It was, I thought, a good show. You can see it here:

The first part of the show was an interview with the Minister of Natural Resources. OK, but the 2nd part, with panelists, was much better.

I knew two of the panelists – Dr. Josef Hamr is a friend, and I have worked with Mark Ryckman. Both are biologists. There was also a politician, another person who has had a lot of dealing with bears, and the moderator.

As I said, I thought it was good show. However, there were a couple of things that weren’t talked about much, if at all, that I would have liked to have heard them discuss.

First, no one mentioned (that I recall)  that the bear harvest can be controlled by limiting the number of tags, or seals, in a given Wildlife Management Unit. This is done for many game species, although in Ontario, not directly for bears. But it is an option. Because this aspect of management was only touched on, I could see how it might have led one to conclude there is a real danger that the spring bear hunt is mostly about killing more bears, and reducing the bear population. With a limit on the number of tags and/or seals, the number of bears harvested in an area can be directly controlled, no matter what the length of the hunting season.

Secondly, with a spring and a fall hunt, with all hunters for the most part baiting, there will, in the long-run, likely be a shift in bear behaviour. Over time, bears that don’t go to bait piles will be more successful that those that do (go to a bait pile, you get shot. Not as likely if you avoid a bait pile). This will have an effect even in towns and cities, especially if so-called nuisance bears are trapped and relocated to the forest. By both shooting and trapping over bait, bears will either learn to avoid bait piles, or selective pressure will reward those bears who, again, avoid bait piles.

So if you watch the show, keep in mind the two points I’ve brought up. At the least, I think it adds a bit more context to the issue.

I was very happy that the show didn’t degenerate into an irrational, emotional shout fest. It was one of the better public discussions I’ve seen on this subject.

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