Spring bear hunt faces legal action from animal rights groups

by Guest Author | April 17, 2014
animal rights groups - black bear in field

Photo courtesy of Randy Therrien.

Two animal rights groups are taking the Ontario government to court in an attempt to stop a spring bear hunt pilot program before it begins, alleging it amounts to animal cruelty.

Animal Alliance of Canada and Zoocheck Canada say mother bears will be killed during the hunt, leaving their orphaned cubs to starve or be killed by predators. “The babies at this time are very small,” said Julie Woodyer of Zoocheck Canada.

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“This is the only large game species that are hunted when the young are still dependent on their mothers and it is inevitable that cubs will be orphaned.”

The animal rights groups have filed an application for judicial review and a notice of constitutional question, which are set to be heard in court on April 29, just days before the start of the program. They hope the court will at least delay the start of the hunt until it can rule on their legal actions.

The regulation would be contrary to animal cruelty laws in the Criminal Code, said the groups’ lawyer David Estrin.

“In our view, reinstituting this program would be tantamount to the minister and the Ministry of Natural Resources either wilfully permitting bear cubs to suffer or failing to exercise reasonable care or supervision of the bear cub population,” he said. “The Criminal Code prohibits causing or allowing animals to suffer. This program of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources will cause black bears to suffer.”

The pilot project to reinstate the spring bear hunt will start May 1 and run for six weeks in 8 wildlife areas known for having the most public safety incidents involving bears.

“In Northern Ontario it is not responsible for a provincial government to ignore the concerns of thousands of residents who are concerned about their public safety,” said Natural Resources Minister David Orazietti. “We have young children who can’t go out for recess at their schools, teachers wearing bear whistles because their children are threatened.”

Nearly 50 mayors and city councils across northern Ontario have passed resolutions calling for their participation in the program, Orazietti said. Out of 95 wildlife management units in Ontario, the pilot program will be in eight, he said.

“Some people who are completely unaffected by this issue and whose children may be perfectly safe in the schools that they attend have no understanding of the implications and the safety challenges in communities in northern Ontario,” Orazietti said.

The hunt was cancelled in 1999 and then-Natural Resources Minister John Snobelen said it had left thousands of cubs orphaned since hunters too often mistakenly shoot mother bears. “Really, the only answer we came up with was to end the spring bear hunt,” he said at the time. “It’s the only acceptable way.”

Orazietti said the government has learned over the past 15 years that other strategies to reduce human-bear incidents have met “fairly limited success.”

“This has been a very, very thoughtful and strategic approach,” he said Thursday. “We’re not suggesting a return of the spring bear hunt of yesteryear.”

The animal rights groups say the ministry’s own scientists have found no link between the end of the spring bear hunt and human-bear incidents. Orazietti said “that’s not completely true.”

“Our scientists do recognize that there are other scientists and other groups that have indicated that bear hunts do in fact have an impact on population,” he said.

Terry Quinney, the provincial manager of fish and wildlife services for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, said the spring bear hunt was, for decades, a valuable wildlife population management tool.

“In reducing the density and distribution of bears in the spring, particularly those older male bears, it is absolutely reducing the probability of dangerous encounters with people,” he said.

Hunters target the male bears, Quinney said, and there are ways they can distinguish male and female bears, especially using suspended bait.

“It’s not hard to imagine that if a food source is placed, for example, hanging from a tree, a bear in order to reach that food source is going to stand on its hind legs, making its genitalia very visible to a hunter,” he said.

Quinney also said there would be economic and social benefits to re-establishing the spring bear hunt in northern communities.

“Prior to the cancellation of the spring bear hunt in Ontario there were approximately 600 family-based businesses in northern and central Ontario that were involved in the spring bear hunt, for example providing guiding services for hunters,” he said.

“Revenues to northern and central Ontario on an annual basis were in excess of $40 million a year. All of those economic benefits have disappeared from Ontario.”

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  1. James Schnerch wrote: Here we go again. Kick these idiots out like we did with Bob Barker.
  2. TW wrote: The bleeding hearts of Toronto are in a tizzy. While their children face no threat from wildlife in their urban jungle, the threat is very real for rural Ontario. It may be hard to realize this but bear will kill you. They are not fluffy, friendly creatures. They are not Whinny the Pooh. A person simply walking on two feet is a threatening stance to bears. Come between a cub and a mother.... Well, it was nice knowing you. I am all for conservation. I only hunt Bear in the fall when I have noticed a lot of sign, and seen many bears on my land. I want a healthy, sustainable population of bears as they are an important part of the ecosystem. What I don't want, is to have the bear population so high I cannot use my land for fear of being mauled, or competing Boars killing and consuming each others offspring in an attempt to put the Sow back into heat. The people behind this lawsuit don't get it. See how they would react to a Sow and two cubs in their children's playground.
  3. Brad wrote: A prime example of animal rights groups not understanding the impact on the environment when there are an abundance of large omnivores who aren't naturally preyed upon.
  4. Andrew Key wrote: The spring bear hunt is a good thing. The only issue is it isn't open in wmu32 were the bears are over populated and killing moose calf's as they are born. As a result the MNR have taken away over half the bullcow tags.
  5. BalancedHarvesting wrote: I welcome the Spring Hunt. Living rurally near forested areas it was always beneficial that spring bear were harvested. We don't live in Disneyland, bears breaking into cottages, homes, killing farm animals, moose calfs, deer fawns are a reality. Human attacks have increased, we have nourished bears in rural garbage dumps unintentionally with meat scraps altering their diet from just berries & fish. We always appreciated our American neighbours who loved the meat and hunt.Young bear learned a fear of man. I had an orphaned cub walk up to me in the fall when stripping garden tomatoes. It bit a few but was not interested. I almost suckered in and went to get it an apple then realized dummy it will associate you with nourishment! This cub made it through 2 more winters walking through my sand trap bellow my house windows, it never once tried to break open a door or window. But I would hate to say how many aggressive bears were destroyed over a 60 year period & how many more encounters caused trauma for children and adults including myself at the age of 6 running right into a standing bear. The Criminal Code argument is emotional fluff. We have to realize the complainants are Animal Rights Groups who believe animals are sentient beings & need the same protections & rights afforded humans. Saying the MNR is failing to exercise reasonable care or supervision of the bear cub population, Will we have the right to sue the crown when our properties are damaged, loved one killed or maimed because the MNR was negligent in supervising bears. Can we sue Zoocheck & Animal Alliance of Canada for damages? I have a piece of artwork from a father who lost his son to a bear attack while prospecting. I witnessed a mother with 4 cubs come to the camp door, when food is scarce they seek out an easy supply. These AR's also have a large membership component who are Vegan and whose long term goal is to ban eating of meat & fish, never mind their attack on trapping. The economic hardship they have caused the Inuit and first nations people is a tragedy destroying their way of life! Cbc Radio had a program interviewing forestry worker in British Columbia who now pack guns at work because they have been attacked by bears.