Why the spring bear hunt should end
Governments across this country have long since handed animal care standards to the interests of industry
By Georges Dupras
May 5, 2022
Due to the return of the spring bear hunt in Ontario, people are asking if there exists any research that calls for hunting black bears, and if so, on what is it based.
To my knowledge, there exists no such data. Just because black bears are not a species at risk, and their numbers suggest they can withstand a hunt, this in itself does not constitute a scientific argument for reinstating the hunt, nor is it conservation.
Should the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry in Ontario (The Ministry) be in possession of such scientific data, then this research should be made available to the general public. Let’s not forget that the Ministry is accountable to all citizens and not only to consumptive wildlife interests. Should you insist on any supportive research, you will almost certainly be directed to Freedom of Information. That said, in lieu of receiving any peer-reviewed science, you will likely receive a letter arguing that wildlife is designated as a resource that can and should be harvested.
Access to information
One popular misunderstanding among Canadians is the area of legal jurisdiction. There are very few federal laws that protect animals in Canada. The cruelty to animals section of the Federal Criminal Code could be used to protect all animals but animal users, and researchers in particular, steadfastly oppose the application of any anti-cruelty laws, preferring their own industry standards and review council. Governments across this country have long surrendered their animal care responsibilities to the interests of industry. Simply put, all agricultural, exotic, wild, and some domestic animals fall under the animal care standards of industry.
The cruelty to animals section of the Federal Criminal Code could be used to protect all animals but animal users, and researchers in particular, steadfastly oppose the application of any anti-cruelty laws, preferring their own industry standards and review council.
In these cases, you may not have access to industry research beyond data that has been pasteurized for public distribution.
It is to be understood that migratory species and those listed by the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) are governed by Federal authorities within Canada. Wildlife on First Nation lands falls under Native Councils or the Elected Chiefs.
Hunting as a conservation tool
Hunting is not a conservation tool; it is a political tool cloaked in so-called science. Wild animals are seen as ‘resources,’ not sentient beings. The spring bear hunt in Ontario, which had been cancelled by the Conservative party of Ontario in 1999, was re-instated in 2014 by the then Liberal party leader, Premier Kathleen Wynne, because, in her own words, she wanted to win the election – science had nothing to do with it.
Regardless, protocols and summaries can be written in such a way as to leave a wide range of interpretations. This can be achieved through the selected use of study disclosures, parameters, terms of reference, funding, time constraints and a touch of personal interest.
True science – science politicized
It is important to recognize true science from science that has been politicized.
True science is defined as the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world. In essence, scientific research, basic or applied, has for purpose to establish the facts about a subject and, in the case of wildlife, their impact on other dependent species (trickle-down effect).
Science politicized is defined in the same manner but is applied in such a way as to justify political objectives. The true meaning of the word science is in no way consistent with how it is applied by industry (industry standards) or our elected officials.
‘As for issues of human safety, the best solutions, such as not building in prime bear habitat in the first instance, or bear-proofing the area as per Bear Smart or Bear Wise standards, are obvious but not popular. It is much easier to fall back to the lock & load mentality.’
Political pundits, among others, promote culls by arguing only those parts of a study that supports their values (cherry-picking), or science that has yet to be peer-reviewed. Animals having little to no capital value* such as: coyotes, mule deer, wolves, cormorants, seals, geese and others; who impact on capital** species such as moose, fish, deer, caribou; who compete for habitat such as wood bison; or who inconvenience humans, are destined for slaughter. As for issues of human safety, the best solutions, such as not building in prime bear habitat in the first instance, or bear-proofing the area as per Bear Smart or Bear Wise standards, are obvious but not popular. It is much easier to fall back to the lock & load mentality.
Effective arguments for the layman
I’m occasionally asked what is the most effective way to counter government arguments for promoting wildlife bounties, culls and hunting, even on private property?
Obviously, each case differs but I would suggest that a person begins by living the standards they are promoting. Personal example will influence where opinions will not. Secondly, I would speak of programs such as Bear Smart and Bear Wise that have proven track records in reducing bear-human incidences. I would refer to the Mule Deer translocation project in British Columbia, another non-lethal approach, or the use of beaver bafflers to deal with flooding issues. Information regarding these programs is available through the animalalliance.ca
Due to our size and demographics, Canada is a challenging country to govern. It doesn’t take long for a new-to-the-hill politician to learn how the political game is played. Politics, and not science, dictate survival on the Hill. The Trans Mountain Pipeline and Le Plan du Nord in Northern Quebec are but two examples. MPs soon learn of the influence that marginal or swing ridings have, the exclusivity of the Ministry of Natural Resources, the benefits of compromise and the cost of ignoring party policy.
‘As long as animals are designated as resources or property, there is little hope for any significant improvement in their overall care by the industries that exploit them.’
There also exist at least two covert parliamentary caucuses in Ottawa to ensure the proper indoctrination of newly-elected MPs. This manner of managing the environment, and wildlife, is not exclusive to Canada and is shared by many other jurisdictions.
As long as animals are designated as resources or property, there is little hope for any significant improvement in their overall care by the industries that exploit them.
Why is there a spring black bear hunt in Ontario? Politics.
If anything, corporate and political rationale, greed as well as pride have shaped our management plans and brought us to where we are today.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of WestmountMag.ca or its publishers.
*Species having a capital value include, but are not limited to: the Big 5 in Africa, polar bears, brown bears, cougars, etc.
**Species having no apparent capital value and designated as vermin include coyotes, seals, wolves, cormorants, wood bison, etc.
Feature image: Janko Ferlic from Pexels
Read also: other articles by Georges R. Dupras
Georges R. Dupras has advocated for animals for over fifty years. A member of the International Association for Bear Research and Management (IBA), a Director of the Animal Alliance of Canada (AAC), Quebec Representative of Zoocheck Canada and past Board member of the Canadian SPCA, he worked on the original Save the Seal campaign in 1966 that culminated in the founding of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in 1969. Georges Dupras has published two books, Values in Conflict and the eBook Ethics, a Human Condition, and currently lives in Montreal, Canada.
I did not realize that the spring bear “hunt” was brought back by Kathleen Wynne, and for the most vile and crass reasons. A spring bear hunt is simply murder. The bears are coming out of hibernation and are hungry. There is no reason to kill bears, cougars, wolves, and other predators. When we have natural predators, the number of deer, elk and other herbivores are kept in balance and the system works. This benefits predator and prey and the ecosystem as whole.
When wolves were returned to Yellowstone, the coyotes fled, the number of small mammals increased, trees began to grow and forests were restored as the number of elk – too many – declined and returned to their in balance population. Even the native trout benefitted from the return of the wolves. We have an over abundance of white tail deer because we got rid of the wolves and cougars in so many areas of North America.
If we returned wolves to many areas, the natural balance would be restored. We have coyotes in Montreal because they know how to adapt to urban environments. Their presence is bad news for many small mammals and foxes. I have nothing against coyotes, but they do interfere with the balance that had been established.
There was a subspecies of black bear on Anticosti Island,, but it went extinct with the introduction of deer on the island that competed for food with the bears and whose population rapidly expanded. Black bears are omnivores and a good deal of their diet consists of vegetation. It’s a great pity that we lost the Anticosti bears. It would be interesting to see what would happen if three or four wolf packs were placed on the island. Hunters may not like it, but the natural balance would be restored and bears could eventually be returned to their home.
Excellent points made in this article. We need fair-minded, intelligent, compassionate people in politics who are willing to put the word “conserve” back into conservation. Scapegoating certain species of animals for political gain is abysmal and governments need to stop providing support for selfish, cruel hunting activities that not only cause suffering to individual animals but work to upset the balance of Nature.
Great article, thanks for sharing your knowledge and insights.
Habitat destruction, overutilization, pollution, climate change, disease, politics, the list is daunting. Which makes it more important than ever for us to continue to lobby industries, to tell our politicians that biodiversity matters and to support organizations that are actively improving the well being of both wild and domestic animals.
Mr. Dupras makes important points and offers valid suggestions to argue against the killing of animals for political or self-serving reasons. We are better than this! We need to get our act together if the natural world is to survive.
Please consider joining this new group in Ontario, launched May 1, the first day of spring bear hunt. Our goal is to increase the general public awareness of bear hunting. The spring hunt needs to become an election issue, and not much chance of stopping it until people start paying attention. Meanwhile we can appeal to the government for better protections for mothers and cubs in spring and fall via Protect Our Cubs Ontario https://www.facebook.com/groups/514689836791079