The Ontario Wildlife Coalition response to David Orazietti's Letter
If you are an Ontario resident:
In a letter to fellow Liberal MPPs, Ontario's Minister of Natural
Resources David Orazietti attempts to provide answers to the flood
of e-mails opposing the partial re-introduction of the spring
bear hunt. The Ontario Wildlife Coalition has responded to the
inaccuracies in his letter. Please read
and the OWC's
rebuttal in red below.
Response to the David Orazietti Letter
Dear Premier Wynne and Members of Provincial Parliament,
In a letter to fellow Liberal MPPs, Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources David Orazietti attempts to provide answers to the flood of e-mails opposing the partial re-introduction of the spring bear hunt.
Minister Orazietti’s letter contains inaccurate information. I hope you will take the time to read this letter and check the information it contains. Minister Orazietti’s claims are in black. The information rebutting his claims are in red.
Minister’s Claim: To be clear, the Ontario Government is not proposing to re-introduce a province-wide spring bear hunt as it existed prior to 1999. We are proposing to address what has become a significant and growing public safety concern over the past fifteen years. Ontario is home to a healthy and sustainable bear population and our ministry is committed to ensuring that this continues. We have increasingly heard from northerners and northern municipalities that they have serious concerns about public safety resulting from an increase in human-bear conflicts.
What the MNR research shows: Minister Orazietti’s re-introduction of a partial spring bear hunt will not reduce human-bear conflicts as his own bear and wildlife biologists have demonstrated. In a 2010 paper, Ministry staff, Eric Howe, Martyn Obbard, Ron Black and Linda Wall concluded the following: “Our correlation and regression analyses showed that the management regime change [the 1999 cancellation of the spring bear hunt] did not alter the effect of harvest on the bear population, nor did higher harvests reduce subsequent conflict.” (Source: Do public complaints reflect trends in human–bear conflict?, 2010 OMNR publication) This more recent conclusion supports similar findings in a 2002 paper authored by Obbard.
Minister’s Claim: In attempting to address these concerns, the Ministry of Natural Resources implemented the Bear Wise program in 2004 to reduce attractants, bear proof property and educate the public about nuisance bears. In fact, Ontario has spent $34.5 million, more than any other jurisdiction in North America, to educate people about bears and how to reduce conflict. After years of attempting to reduce human-bear conflicts, including a costly trap and re-locate program that proved to be ineffective, more needs to be done.
The reality – no commitment to prevention – Bear Wise funding only 3.6% of the overall operating budget: The Bear Wise programme’s yearly budget was approximately $4 million dollars. This was the Ministry’s only real prevention and non-lethal intervention programme and it met with substantial resistance from hunters and outfitters. Of the total 2010/2011 operating budget of $108.5 million for the Fish and Wildlife Programme, the Ministry allocated a paltry $4 million or 3.6% to Bear Wise.
Does Bear Wise work? Edward Tavss, PhD, Rutgers University titled Correlation of reduction in nuisance black bear complaints with implementation of (a) a non-violent program and (b) a hunt Final Report Presented at 9/21/05 New Jersey Public Hearing on the Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policyfound the following in Elliot Lake, Ontario: “The year before public education and bear-resistant containers were implemented there were 500 nuisance bear calls (figure 6) and three shootings (data not shown). In 2004 there were 87 nuisance bear calls and no shootings.(10)”
Minister’s claim: In response, our government has proposed a plan with a new approach to managing nuisance bear issues in Ontario. We are proposing a pilot project in a number of northern municipalities, which have the highest incidents of nuisance bears and which would include a limited early hunting season.
The pilot is limited to 8 wildlife management units (WMUs) out of 95 in Ontario. The proposal indicates that the hunt would only be open to Ontario residents and would run from May 1st to June 15th. The focus of the hunt is public safety. We will monitor and evaluate the success of the two-year pilot.
It is important to note that under the pilot project, hunting bear cubs or females with cubs will be illegal.
Cubs will be orphaned in the spring and will die of starvation: Saying that it is illegal to kill female bears with cubs does not prevent it from happening and there will be no enforcement when it happens. From 1988 to 1999 when the spring hunt ended, it was illegal to kill a mother bear with cubs but orphaning occurred. The new hunt again prohibits the killing of females with cubs in the spring but it will happen. In 1996, Ken Morrison, Wildlife Specialist for the Ministry of Natural Resources explained how the Ministry calculated the number of cubs likely to be orphaned and in the end, he concluded that the number could be as high as 274. Since the Minister believes that there are virtually no orphans, he is either ignoring the information available to him through staff reports or there were no enforcement actions taken when it happened.
Minister’s claim: The “MNR numbers” that you have referenced regarding the orphan bear cubs are not MNR numbers and are not based on any science or data. In fact, MNR numbers do not suggest that hundreds of cubs will be orphaned and since 1990 there have only been two cases of hunters causing the orphaning of cubs according to MNR data.
The facts: The information about orphaned cubs has come from the Ministry of Natural Resources. The original calculations were done by Ken P. Morrison, who was a Wildlife Specialist with the MNR. The calculation was based on “a thorough examination of black bear harvests, population dynamics and impacts of cubs orphaned during 1982-94 hunting seasons for Wildlife Management Units 39, 41 and 42 situated near Sudbury and North Bay.” These are three of the Wildlife Management Units proposed for the spring bear hunt pilot project.
Not only does the above information contradict the Minister’s claim that there have only been two cases of hunters causing the orphaning of cubs since 1990 but a manuscript summarizing a Round Table Discussion of Fish and Game Departments concluded “The biggest issue is the killing of nursing female black bears. There is no way to prevent this from happening in a spring bear season, either through hunter education or timing of season. Nursing female black bears often forage at great distances from their cubs…The appearance of nursing females in the kill each spring supports this notion. During the last spring of hunting in Colorado, the number of nursing female black bears checked was within three of the number predicted based on breeding rate of females and total females killed. In other words, there was no selection even with regulations prohibiting the taking of nursing females.” Sociological and Ethical Consideration of Black Bear Hunting, Thomas Beck, Colorado Division of Wildlife, David Moody, Wyoming Fish and Game Department, Donald Koch, California Fish and Game Department, John Beecham, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Gary Olson, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Timothy Burton, California Fish and Game.
Even after the spring hunt was ended, cubs were orphaned. As the Ministry states in it's publication, Backgrounder on Black Bears in Ontario, OMNR, June 2009, “Reliable information on the number of cubs received for rehabilitation has been available only since 1999 (after the end of the spring bear hunt) when wildlife custodians were regulated and required to report to OMNR the annual number of animals received for rehabilitation. The numbers of cubs received for rehabilitation were 32 in 1999, 20 in 2000, 195 in 2001, 24 in 2002, 93 in 2003, 17 in 2004, 63 in 2005, 16 in 2006, and 99 in 2007.” There are a number of causes of orphaning, including females killed in defence of property and hit by cars. But the report also states, “The increase in vulnerability of adult females to harvesting during food failure years may also result in some orphaned cubs during the fall.””
Minister’s claim: MNR population data has indicated an increasing trend in the bear population in Ontario, but more importantly, there is an overall increase in the number of nuisance bear incidents.
The facts: The statement made by Minister Oraziette is discredited by his own staff. They say, “In our study , cancellation of the spring hunt was associated with a dramatic increase in complaints even though annual harvests remained stable or increased, and there was no effect of the CSH [cancellation of the spring hunt] on numbers of traps set to capture bears involved in conflicts or bears killed in defense of property.” Staff continue, “Wildlife biologists and managers should carefully evaluate whether trends in numbers of public complaints about human–bear conflict reflect the actual frequency or severity of human–bear conflict before drawing inferences from, or making management decisions based on, trends in complaint data.”
The MNR data from the Bear Wise programme demonstrate this. The number of occurrences that required the MNR to take action such as trapping, relocating or killing the bears was quite low in relation to the total number of occurrences (Bear Wise statistics, OMNR).
Minister’s claim: In addition, in all the proposed WMUs, city councils and communities need to demonstrate support by passing a resolution indicating their support to opt into the pilot program. There is strong local support with nearly 50 resolutions passed to date including resolutions from Thunder Bay, Timmins, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury.
Minister does not require municipalities to be Bear Wise: The Minister has very little information on the number and type of human/bear interactions in each community. The Minister has not required communities to implement human/bear conflict prevention programmes as is recommended through Bear Wise. According to Ministry staff, some communities in the pilot project Wildlife Management Units have implemented some aspects of the Bear Wise programme such as no feeding by-laws and garbage by-laws. But many have not implemented even a rudimentary programme. In addition, Ministry staff had no information on the level of by-law enforcement.
Furthermore, police statistics for the last ten years just received through the Freedom of Information process from Minister Orazietti’s home town, Sault Ste. Marie, show that ‘nuisance’ bear incidents have decreased , not increased as the Minister claims. According to the Minister, Sault Ste. Marie supports a spring bear hunt. If this is the case, then based on police statistics, public safety is clearly not the issue. Rather it has to do with generating more revenue from hunting.
The Minister argues that he is measuring the occurrences not the incidents. Occurrences are the number of calls made about bears. Again, contrary to the Minister’s statement, the number of calls are also in decline despite a spike in 2008 and 2009.
The Minister also indicates Thunder Bay supports a spring bear hunt. However, the Mayor of Thunder Bay, Keith Hobbs, states in the Jan/Feb issue of Canadian Geographic “I’m not an animal activist. I just think there are better ways to control the bear population.” He went on to say he would rather see problem bears transplanted and more effort put into educating the public on how to prevent human-bear interaction in the first place.
Minister’s claim: In seven other provinces and all territories in Canada there are full jurisdictional hunts in the spring and fall. However, we believe a more strategic approach that is focused on increasing public safety is best for Ontario.
Killing doesn’t work: If Minister Orazietti paid attention to the research done by his own staff, he would know that killing bears will not decrease human/wildlife conflict situations and so will fail in his stated goal of increasing public safety.
Minister’s claim: While you may or may not live in northern Ontario it is certainly clear that those who most directly face this issue strongly support this responsible proposal. Our government has a strong record on protecting wildlife, the environment and natural resources and we will continue to take a thoughtful balanced approach to these issues.
The facts: Minister Oraziette and previous Minister Gravelle both have a strong record of dismantling wildlife protection in Ontario. Ontario’s Environment Commissioner, Gord Miller, in his October 2013 report, Gutting the MNR: Lowered Standards, Dangerous Risks, stated “that the changes to the Ministry of Natural Resources cast doubt on the ministry’s ability to properly manage and protect Ontario’s natural environment. Important legal safeguards for provincial parks, species at risk, hunting and Crown lands have been significantly weakened...Protection for at-risk species have been gutted as major industrial activities can now proceed almost unchecked – provincial parks are being transformed into revenue streams, rather than nature reserves...”
I am concerned about the specific misinformation, as outlined above, being circulated by the Minister’s office. I would appreciate a reply with respect to these concerns.