Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Hunters Who Want To Kill Bears Change Their Tune

When All Else Fails, Get Personal

Judging from newspaper reports, there seems to be a bit of a change in how the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) is trying to promote the spring bear hunt—or maybe the media are ignoring what they were saying. The original argument was that the spring bear hunt does not orphan as many bears as its critics claim, and that male bears eat cubs (which they may do, but it is not commonplace). But, the concerns of those of us opposed to hunting bears in spring are based on what was reported by scientists studying the hunt. Without seeming to consult with those scientists (apparently including the bear experts working for him), Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources David Orazietti, and his boss, Premier Kathleen Wynne, chose instead to implement a “test” spring hunt, starting May 1 and running for six weeks. It is limited to eight wildlife management units in Central and Northern Ontario.

Now, the mantra from OFAH seems to be that they don’t want “big city animal rights extremists” influencing the Ministry. I guess they see that as their own exclusive right.

I am not sure which “big city animal rights extremists” OFAH means, but I do know that OFAH has absolutely no moral authority whatsoever to dictate what I, my colleagues who oppose the hunt, or the bear biologists whose reports and findings we cite, say when we present actual facts.

I suspect OFAH did some sort of opinion survey that showed that compassionate people didn’t really care what the precise number of cubs starving to death might be, or what male bears did; their concern was for the number of cubs orphaned by hunters shooting lactating female bears with dependent cubs.

What is “extremist” about referencing known facts, or being concerned about animal abuse that leaves cubs to starve? It certainly sounds nasty, to the point of name-calling. In my experience, name-calling is resorted to when facts fail to support the position, on either side of any controversy.

Colleagues at two organizations for which I am a director, Zoocheck and Animal Alliance of Canada, are taking the Ministry to court, advised by a top law firm, Gowlings. I won’t comment on the specifics of the case, but I will comment on what David Orazietti was quoted as saying: “We have young children who can’t go out for recess at their schools, teachers wearing bear whistles because their children are threatened.”

Huh? No “young children” have ever been killed by black bears in Ontario. The real issue is how to prevent even the possibility of a risk—even one that is too small to measure, given that it’s never actually happened. It would help to reduce interactions between bears and people, and to reduce the presence of bears in communities. Mind you, no one has ever been killed by a bear in any of our towns or cities, but it is still a matter of fewer being better. Orazietti is quoted as saying that other strategies have been met with “fairly limited success.” That’s more than either the spring or fall bear hunt has been met with, and the record would be far better, had funding for the “Bear Wise” program not been so severely cut, and had the province found incentives for communities to take necessary steps to eliminate major bear “attractants,” such as open dumps and garbage containers.

Orazietti can’t be that obtuse. His “consultations” do not appear to have been with experts, nor to have referenced how successful such programs as Bear Wise can be. Rather, he consulted with mayors! These politicians are playing a horribly cynical came, preying on people’s fears and ignorance while making them think they care. Good grief. The problems caused by bears occurred when there was a full-blown spring hunt—and the concern about a bear seen on the street on Halloween (that Orazietti frequently references) happened during the fall hunt! Hunting does not stop bear complaints unless it wipes out all bears: the very thing Orazietti’s ministry is committed to preventing.

In Yellowstone National Park (where they have black bears, like ours, and the far more powerful and potentially more dangerous grizzlies), rather than implementing hunting, they made a concerted effort to educate visitors and residents while removing attractants—similar to the Bear Wise program the Ontario government had in place. I recently saw a wonderful chart showing how property damage in Yellowstone from both bear species went from 138 from 1931 to 1969; down to 46 in the 1970s; to 20 in the 1980s; to seven in the 1990s; and how bear-inflicted human injuries went from 48 between 1931 and 1969; to six in the 1970s; to two in the 1980s; to one in the 1990s. And, that chart was put there by Stephen Herrero, the world authority on the topic, who wrote the book on bear risks to humans, literally; it’s called Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance, Winchester Press, 1985.

How is Orazietti supposed to know about that chart? Well, it’s in his own ministry’s report, written by Herrero for Orazietti’s own ministry in 2006. It gave a favourable evaluation of the Bear Wise program, with recommendations for the kinds of successes that have been well documented in other programs in other jurisdictions, and how they can be effective in Ontario—and were, dramatically so, when the community (Elliot Lake) co-operated (as most other communities apparently would prefer not to do). In Elliot Lake, from 2003 to 2013, calls taken about bears dropped from 509 to 67; traps set for bears in town plummeted from 55 to zero; bears trapped in town because of risk went from 20 to zero; each of those two years, three bears were shot for the same reason; cubs trapped went from four to zero; and bears tranquilized to be moved went from four to zero. Better results would have happened, if it hadn’t been for the government’s funding cuts.

Orazietti says that the fully funded Bear Wise program was too costly. Okay; we get that Kathleen Wynne won’t spend the amount of our tax money required to be effective in reducing bear/human conflicts, and what is obviously a very minimal risk to people or property (lightning strikes are significantly more dangerous to both) because people mistakenly (but understandably) think killing bears in spring will work. Fool voters; prey on their fears and lack of knowledge; avoid having to do what has been proven to work; attack opponents; and then brag about saving money. From Rob Ford, to Stephen Harper, to too many politicians in between, it’s no wonder the profession is held in such low esteem.

Barry Kent MacKay
Born Free USA