|Written By: Gary Ball,
Special to The Outfitter
|Originally Published in the September/October 1995
issue of The Outfitter Magazine.
Ending Ontario’s spring bear hunt will be the target of a massive campaign by a new group, The Bear Alliance, pulled together at a Toronto meeting at the end of June.
The campaign to end the spring hunt in this province is part of a broader objective to end all bear hunting in Canada. The Bear Alliance is a coalition of individuals and groups, most of them with a strong anti-hunting bent.
Both the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) and the Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Association (NOTO) were barred from attending. Both support spring bear hunting on a sustainable harvest basis.
“I think they have missed the boat by not having us at the meeting and hearing our views,” says NOTO’s Jim Grayston.
“We have a great deal in common with these groups in terms of the survival of bears in Ontario. It is in no-one’s interest to harvest bears on anything but a sustainable basis,” he said.
NOTO estimates that the spring bear hunt brings about $40 million U.S. into the hard-pressed economy of Northern Ontario each year. Bear hunting outfitters, he says, have assigned bear management areas and it is in their own interest to ensure a healthy bear population for the future. He says there is absolutely no biological reason to curtail spring hunting.
The Bear Alliance campaign, though, won’t be based on science or biology. Strategies include major media campaign legal measure involving civil court actions, actions under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights and challenges to the Ontario Game and Fish Act. Even if legal challenges fail in the courts they will damage hunters and outfitters and draw media attention.
And the Bear Alliance has lifted a leaf from the anti-trapping strategy notebook and hopes to embarrass Canada and Ontario on the international stage, most likely in Europe and very likely before European Parliament.
Yet another tactic is expected to be the exploitation of differences of opinion within the hunting community about spring bear hunting and bear baiting. If the Alliance can find hunters who oppose the spring hunt it hopes to exploit divisions among hunters to its own advantage – use hunters who oppose spring hunt to help shut it down.
The majority of spring bear hunters in Ontario are U.S. residents and the Alliance seems to feel that some level of underlying Canadian hunter animosity toward American hunters can be exploited to fuel this campaign.
Another issue the Alliance hopes will add fuel to the fire is the illegal international traffic in bear parts which are often used in Oriental medicine. Although the sale of bear parts is illegal in Ontario the Alliance will argue that the legal hunting of bears fuels the illegal market.
But the key component in the campaign against spring bear hunting will be straight emotionalism, with a healthy mix of well-intentioned misinformation. The spring hunt, particularly over bait, will be attacked as “unfair”, compared to shooting fish in a barrel. Baiting bears is a lot tougher than it sounds and it offers the hunter the opportunity to identify the age and sex of the bear and to make a clean, humane kill, but baiting can be made to sound just plain bad.
Claims will also be made that too many female bears are being killed in the spring hunt. The taking of a female bear with cubs is illegal in Ontario and reputable outfitters carefully instruct clients in telling males from females. Yes, it can be done. This claim allows anti-hunt activists to paint gruesome pictures of cute, cuddly little bear cubs being orphaned by vicious hunters. It’s the kind of thing that plays well in North American cities and in Europe.
There will also be arguments during the campaign that Ontario’s bear population is being threatened by hunting and by spring hunting in particular. Although there is absolutely no evidence to back these claims they will, nonetheless, be made.
Among the groups and individuals making presentations at the Toronto Event (called “An Evening for Bear Protection”) were Federation of Ontario Naturalists, Animal Alliance, International Fund for Animal Welfare, World Wildlife Fund, Bear With Us, Humane Society's International Bear Watch, and the Grizzly Project. Not all of these groups flatly oppose hunting, but all want to end the spring bear hunt.
Hunters and the tourist industry in Ontario have to remain united if they hope to prevent the Bear Alliance campaign from succeeding in bringing an end to the spring bear hunt. The ultimate goal is to end all bear hunting.
Hunters and outfitters must also insist that bear hunting in Ontario be conducted only on the basis of a humane, sustainable harvest. If scientific evidence shows a threat to bear populations, then the hunting community must lead the way in asking for controls.