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Michael Commito is a PhD candidate in the history department at McMaster University. His dissertation focuses on the history of big-game management, notably bears, deer and wolves, in Ontario and New York state.
The number of negative interactions between humans and black bears in Ontario has risen sharply this season, raising concerns about the management and welfare of the species across the province. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) recently shifted its emphasis from an active bear management model to one focused on personal responsibility on the part of citizens.
These cuts most notably affect Bear Wise, the provincial body established in 2004 to oversee human-bear interaction in the province. These include a significant reduction in the number of bear technicians, cancelling the trapping and relocation of nuisance bears and on-site visits to landowners experiencing conflicts with bears. Recent incidents highlight the problem associated with trimming the province’s bear monitoring services while still trying to care for the animals’ welfare.
By phasing out integral parts of Bear Wise, the government has essentially downloaded the program to local police departments. Responding to nuisance bear calls should not fall on the shoulders of police; they already have enough on their plate and are not experts like bear technicians.
While police are adept at responding to emergency bear calls, this will likely lead to an increase in the number of bears killed. In May, for instance, Burlington police responded to calls of a wayward male black bear roaming Mountainside Park near a residential area. When police arrived they drew their firearms and killed the bear.
Opposition to the killing erupted almost immediately but police are not trained or equipped with tranquilizing guns or traps, nor do they practice wild animal relocation. With the onus now on police, this type of ending seems more likely for problem bears, especially in northern communities where police are inundated with bear calls and do not have the time or resources to bring the situation to a peaceful conclusion.
Shifting the responsibility onto citizens for being “bear wise” is also problematic, as evidenced by events last week in Sudbury. On June 9, Sudbury police were called to the northeast part of the city, where a black bear cub had been tied to a post. According to witnesses, an unidentified man climbed a tree and removed the cub before firmly tying it up.
For the rest of this column, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1211667–trouble-for-human-bear-relations