Go bigger with bear hunt (Thunder Bay Chronicle- Journal – July 20, 2014)

Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

A pilot-project bear hunt that ran in eight wildlife management units this spring, including one near Thunder Bay, needs to be expanded to be an effective wildlife management tool.

This past week a Thunder Bay man was knocked down and dragged by a bear near his home on Garden Avenue. It was the second aggressive bear encounter this summer in the city. One bear which showed up in the Oliver Road area and became aggressive had to be put down by city police.

In another encounter last month in Sioux Lookout, a man was dragged off a trail by a bear. So far no one has been seriously injured.

Northwestern Ontario Sportsmen’s Alliance John Kaplanis said Friday that it would be “most prudent” of Natural Resources Minister Bill Mauro to consider changes to the pilot project, if it is not doing enough to affect local bear populations.

He said NOSA has recommended that the pilot hunt be expanded to include additional wildlife management units as well as allow non-resident bear hunters, housed by tourist operators, to participate in the spring hunt.

Kaplanis noted that the spring hunt is only six weeks in length and with the very late thaw in Northwestern Ontario it is likely that the pilot bear hunt had little effect on black bear numbers.

“Resident bear hunters taking part in the pilot hunt reported difficulties in hunting and harvesting bears due to late spring conditions which kept bears very inactive until well into the month of June,” he said.

The Ministry of Natural Resources implemented the pilot spring bear hunt from May 1 to June 15, citing public safety reasons.

So far, some people in Thunder Bay and Sioux Lookout don’t feel that safe.

While police and provincial wildlife officials are reminding city residents to keep garbage stowed away and bird feeders tidy to prevent similar bear encounters, additional hunting opportunities for non-resident hunters, (resulting in an economic boon for area tourist outfitters) would go a long way to keeping bear numbers in check.

With the limited hunt open to Ontario residents only and running in just eight wildlife management units, we don’t think the results of the pilot hunt will show that it is doing enough to keep people safe.

An expanded hunt would provide the information necessary to make a sound wildlife management decision, of either reopening the spring hunt permanently or dropping the bear management tool altogether.

It is something the ministry should look at for next spring.