Coalition Comments on the

Nuisance Bear Committee’s

Report and Recommendations

 

 

Presented to:

 

The Honourable David Ramsay,

Minister of Natural Resources

 

By:

 

Liz White, Director

Animal Alliance of Canada

 

Barry MacKay, International Representative,

Animal Protection Institute

Director, Zoocheck Canada Inc.

 

Stephen Best, Director

Environment Voters

 

Donna DuBreuil, Director

Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre

 

Pat Tohill, Campaigns Director

World Society for the Protection of Animals

 

 

 

Friday, November 28, 2003

 

 

TO:                 The Honourable David Ramsay,

                        Ontario Minister of Natural Resources

 

From:             Liz White, Director

                        Animal Alliance of Canada

 

                        Barry MacKay, International Representative

                        Animal Protection Institute and Director,

                        Zoocheck Canada Inc

 

                        Stephen Best, Director

                        Environment Voters

 

Donna DuBreuil, Director

Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre

 

Pat Tohill, Campaigns Director

World Society for the Protection of Animals

 

SUBJECT:     Nuisance Bear Committee Report and Recommendations

 

DATE:            November 28, 2003

 

Dear Mr. Ramsay,

 

Congratulations on your appointment as Minister of Natural Resources.  Animal Alliance, the Animal Protection Institute, Environment Voters, the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre, World Society for the Protection of Animals and Zoocheck Canada hope to develop a positive and constructive working relationship with your office.

 

It is for this reason that we wish to alert you to our concerns about The Nuisance Bear Committee findings and to ask you to consider our recommendations, listed below.

 

We also wish to thank you for releasing the report and allowing time for public input. 

 

Recommendations:

 

·        Disregard the Nuisance Bear Committee’s recommendations because of the Committee’s pro spring bear hunt bias, a concern that was brought to the Minister’s attention a year before the Nuisance Bear Report was released.

 

·        Maintain a ban on the spring bear hunt, a position supported by Premier McGuinty in writing to the International Fund for Animal Welfare a year ago.

 

·        Assist municipalities in identifying cost-efficient, effective, non-lethal and humane bear management programmes to reduce conflicts between humans and bears.

 

·        Amend the current bear hunting regulations to ban the use of bait and dogs for the purposes of hunting bears.

 

·        Ban the killing of mother bears with dependant cubs at any time of the year.

 

·        Explore and promote revenue generation from northern ecotourism and other activities that do not involve resource consumptive activities like hunting, trapping and fishing.

 

Concerns With The Nuisance Bear Committee Report and Recommendations:

 

·        A Biased Consultation Process And A Failed Mandate:

 

The Committee was “charged with reviewing all aspects of the nuisance bear issue in Ontario, preparing a report with recommendations and submitting it to the Minister of Natural Resources” (Nuisance Bear Review Committee, Report and Recommendations, August 28, 2003, pg 8).

A Biased Consultation Process:  A year ago, we raised concerns about the pro spring bear hunt bias of a Committee member.  We asked for his removal from the Committee because we believed that his views were so strong, they would severely bias the report.  Our concerns intensified throughout the consultation process as other members of the Committee failed to distance themselves from the persistent pro spring bear hunt remarks.

Prior to the release of the Report, the same Committee member tried to bias the report by leaking the most controversial recommendation, the re-introduction of the spring bear hunt.  He failed to acknowledge that the Committee was unable to find any causal relation between the cancellation of the spring hunt and the increase in “nuisance” bear complaints.  Once again, the other Committee members made no attempt to distance themselves from the comments nor did they try to correct the inaccurate statements made by this individual.

A Failed Mandate:  As a public policy instrument, the report is fundamentally flawed in that it fails to provide any real solutions that would reduce human-bear conflicts.  Driven by its pro spring bear hunt bias, the Committee proceeds to make recommendations beyond its mandate: including suggestions for bear harvest management and the re-instatement of the spring bear hunt for socio-economic reasons.

We remind the Minister of the strong public support for the ending of the spring bear hunt.  The spring bear hunt was cancelled in the first place because Ontarians were increasingly loathe to excuse the orphaning of bear cubs in the interest of generating income.

2.   The Committee’s Recommendations:

·        Harvest Management:  The Committee recommends a bear Harvest Management System with seven elements, none of which address the  “nuisance” bear issue.  The elements address hunting issues include the allocation of the number of bear hunting permits to hunters, trappers and outfitters and the collection of data.  They do not deal with “nuisance” bear situations.  This is an important distinction, particularly to the degree that hunting with bait and dogs can exacerbate the likelihood of encounters between bears and humans.

·        Further Research On The Variation In Nuisance Bear Activity:  The Committee lists three recommendations involving further research but fails to propose solutions. While research can be important in understanding wildlife behaviour, it is unclear how such research would assist municipalities in handling bear complaints.  Given the limited resources available to the Ministry, we believe that those research dollars should be directed toward the building of a modern, effective, humane bear conflict resolution programme, the refinement of existing non-lethal procedures and the development of a co-operative programme between the Ministry and Ontario’s municipal governments.

·        MNR’s Role In Nuisance Bear Management:  The Committee recommends a greater MNR co-ordinating role in nuisance bear management.  It also recommends that the MNR “engage municipalities in pro-active measures” to solve nuisance bear problems.  However, the Committee fails to address how its recommendations will be implemented, by whom and at what cost.  On a practical level, this report provides little information to assist municipalities with “nuisance” bear concerns. 

      More problematic is the Bear Hazard Assessment programme.  The removal of attractants and a legislative prohibition on feeding bears is a very  good idea which our coalition fully supports.  However, the success of such an initiative depends on public support and participation, which is continually undermined by the OMNR’s position that it is acceptable to feed bears to kill them, but not to view them.  It should be remembered that not all bears attracted to bait piles are legal game nor are all bears that feed at bait sites killed.  These animals become habituated to handouts and garbage, the very thing that contributes to the potential for them to become “nuisance” bears.  The Ministry should prohibit hunting over bait because it cannot credibly argue that bears do not become garbage dependant at bait piles set by hunters and outfitters but do become dependant at garbage dumps and dumpsters and bait piles for viewing. 

As well, the OMNR has done little research on the relationship between feeding bears over bait and the nuisance bear issue, even though for four months of the year, the OMNR allows a province-wide bear feeding programme by hunters and outfitters.  An article in the Globe and Mail, Tuesday November 25th 2003, reported on research conducted by Jon Beckman, a bear expert with the Wildlife Conservation Society.  Dr. Beckman’sstudies, published in the Journal of Zoology suggests that bears are attracted to garbage to such a degree that the availability of food sources has begun to alter the inherent behaviour of wild bears.  The Beckman findings very clearly indicate a strong likelihood that active baiting programmes may in fact influence bear behaviour, increasing the probability of the animals coming into close contact with people.

·        Agricultural Damage:  The number of calls about bears causing agricultural damage was significantly less than other bear complaints.  Appendix 17 of the report shows that the largest percentage of complaints about bears involved garbage at 47.8, gardens at 12.7,  barbeque/grease at 5.5 and composters at 2.8 as compared to fruit trees at 1.8, bee hives at 1.7 and livestock at 1.3.  Well over half the complaints about nuisance bears could be solved through education and by-law initiatives aimed at cleaning up garbage at homes, cottages, restaurants and dump-sites, proper disposal of grease, the maintenance of clean barbeques and proper handling of compost.  Instead, the recommendations focus on agricultural damage only.

·        Partial re-instatement of the Spring Bear hunt for socio-economic reasons:  Although the report acknowledges finding no connection between the cancellation of the spring hunt and an increase in nuisance bear complaints, the Committee recommends the re-introduction anyway.  While many outfitters support the re-introduction of the hunt, some express concern about the economic impact of another adjustment - shorter fall hunt, limited spring hunt and other regulations - on their business.

2.   Economic Argument Flawed:

Appendix 22, The Economic Impact of Bear Hunting in Ontario, was the Committee’s attempt at justifying the recommended re-introduction of the hunt for socio-economic reasons.  It would appear that this Appendix was included because the Committee could not find a connection between the cancellation of the spring hunt and the apparent increase in “nuisance” bear complaints.  Unfortunately this results in a biased paper that does not take into account other factors influencing visitor revenues.

·        Problems interpreting the data:  The March 2003 paper authored by Jennifer Backler, Industry Relations Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) raises several concerns about the interpretation of the study.  They are:

The cancellation of the spring bear hunt early in 1999 and the extension of the fall bear hunting season in the same year makes it difficult to interpret the change in hunter activity and expenditures.

 

This paper is based on the data collected through Provincial Mail Surveys by Ministry of Natural Resources staff.  The survey design used to collect social and economic information from bear hunters changed between 1997 and 2000.  The impact of these changes is difficult to assess though some impact is expected.

 

·        Decline in licenses before the cancellation of the spring bear hunt:  Appendix 21 is a report entitled, The Economic Impact of Bear Hunting in Ontario, by Jennifer Backler of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.  The statistics in the report shows that 1994 and 1995 were the peak bear hunting years between 1993 and 2002, with a total of 25,726 and 26,082 licenses sold for each year respectively.  However, the study fails to point out that in the three consecutive years, 1996, 1997 and 1998 prior to the cancellation of the spring hunt, bear licenses were declining at 22,610, 22,252 and 22,277 respectively, a full 15%.  The report does not address the fact that bear licenses were already in decline when the spring hunt was cancelled. 

 

As well, the report fails to acknowledge the fact that the bear hunting industry is beginning to adjust to the change.  There has been an 11% increase in the sale of licenses between 1999, when the hunt was ended, and 2002.  During that same period, there was a 17% increase in revenue from the sale of licenses.  The $2,099,678 revenue received from licenses in 2002 topped revenues received in 1993 when both a spring and fall hunt occurred and was slightly below the 1997 and 1998 revenues.

 

Finally, the report failed to examine what the economic impact would be if the bear hunting regulations were changed again.  In fact, bear outfitters are expressing similar concerns.

·        The study was limited to bear hunting and failed to contextualize the impact in the overall economics of the northern tourist industry:  Failure to contextualize the economics of bear hunting in relation to total northern tourism dollars exaggerates the importance of the industry. 

The report fails to examine whether bear hunting has any negative impact on other northern tourist activities.  It also fails to acknowledge the steep decline in the overall number of hunters in Ontario.

More importantly, the report fails to examine the broader economic impact of the steep decline in the number of tourists from the United States because of SARS, the gun registry, 9/11 and the recent increase in the value of the Canadian dollar.

Conclusion:  We urge the Minister to maintain a ban on the spring bear hunt and to consider the other recommendations made in this report. Thank you for the opportunity to present our concerns about the Committee’s recommendations.

Please feel free to contact us if you wish further clarification or information.

Our contact information is as follows:  Liz White, Animal Alliance 416-462-9541 (w) or 416-809-4371 (c), Barry MacKay, Animal Protection Institute, Zoocheck Canada 905-472-9731,  Stephen Best, Environment Voters 519-925-3440, Donna DuBreuil, Ottawa Carleton Wildlife Centre 613-282-3755 (w),  Pat Tohill, World Society for the Protection of Animals, 416-369-0044 (w).

 

Sincerely, and on behalf of the Coalition,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liz White.