Spring is in the Bear

spring bear-1

It was -38 C this morning at our house. Dang cold. By early December, it was cold and we were bracing for another hard winter like last year. Then around the end of December and well into January, temperatures rose and it was rather pleasant for at least three weeks. Even got above melting a couple of times. Then the deep freeze hit and ever since there has not been much respite. Only a few days have not been downright bone-chilling cold.

On the other hand, days are noticeably longer and one can actually feel that the sun has some warmth in it. That is, if you are sheltered, out of the wind and facing due south. Then, there’s just a hint of spring.

This spring sees the second year of a two-year pilot for “an early, open black bear hunting season for residents” in eight Wildlife Management Units’s; two around the city of Thunder Bay, two around the city of Timmins, one near the City of Sault Ste. Marie, and three that encompass the cities of Sudbury and North Bay. My understanding of the pilot project (activity planned as a test or trial) is to evaluate how the hunt went and make decisions on how, where, when and if spring bear hunting should be allowed to continue. Since 1999, when the spring bear hunt was cancelled, there had been no spring bear hunting anywhere in Ontario until 2014.

Like last year, the season in 2015 runs from May 1 to June 15. Last year, 847 hunters harvested < 200 bears. I suspect the numbers will be about the same this year.

What does this mean? Who knows. There’s a lot of divergent opinion about the spring bear hunt.

It’s the classic case of trying to run a program on a ‘science-based’ foundation when the issue has actually very little to do with science.

Bear hunting in general, but particularly spring bear hunting, is all about emotions and agendas. One camp says bear hunting is bad. As evidence they talk about cuddly little cubs, orphaned when mother is shot, with little to no chance of survival, and the unethical nature of shooting bears in the spring, over bait, after a long winter’s hibernation (note: in the spring, it is illegal to kill a mother bear with cubs). This camp is unequivocal in their perspective – no spring bear hunt.

Another segment of society says bears can be a problem, they have economic value, and the best way to address these and other issues is to allow for a spring bear hunt. The problems are many: one, big bears do, on occasion, attack and kill people. They also prey upon other mammals, including moose and deer, whose numbers are in decline in much of Ontario. They can become a pest in urban areas. This camp thinks a spring bear hunt is a good thing, and it can be done on a sustainable basis that’s justified on social as well as biological principles.

I don’t know which view is going to triumph after the two-year pilot project is over. I think hunting and hunters have become somewhat more acceptable to the public at large than they were 15 years ago, but whether the spring bear hunt will expand in scope, or even continue, is still a very up-in-the-air question. Whatever the government chooses to do, there are large numbers of people who won’t be happy.

Personally, I won’t be bear hunting this spring. If the season were open where I live, I would probably buy a license, though. Once every few years, we have a bear who insists on raiding the garden, rummaging in the greenhouse or breaking into the chicken and rabbit pens. One chased Lillian around the house on a couple of occasions. We have tried live-trapping and removal, but the bears returned with two days, even though they had been relocated over 100 kms distant. I’ve tried shooting them with rubber bullets, which seemed to have no discernible effect as a deterrent. In these circumstances, I’d rather have as an option the ability to eliminate the bear under the auspices of a licence, as opposed to simply destroying it as a nuisance.

Bear season opens in about two months. By the time it opens, I hope to be turkey hunting. Gobble Gobble!

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