Liberal backbencher Bill Mauro introduced a private member's bill this week to bring back the hunt. Timmins-James Bay NDP MPP Gilles Bisson said Mauro's bill is merely an attempt to curry favour in his Thunder Bay-Atikokan riding, according to the NDP's natural resources critic.
The province's spring bear hunt was cancelled in 1999 by Mike Harris' Progressive Conservative government.
Mauro said in a press release the reinstatement of the spring bear hunt — which under his bill would include an April 15-June 15 open season — is something that a lot of northerners have been calling for.
“The growth of the region's bear population seems to be resulting in more frequent encounters and attacks by aggressive bears,” he said.
News of Mauro's bill was greeted with both skepticism and hope by at least one Sudbury outfitter. Ramakko's Tackle World owner, Brian Ramakko, said he doesn't think there's the political will to bring back the spring bear hunt.
“We have a minority Liberal government,” Ramakko said. “I don't think they want to do anything that's risky. I think there is not the political will in southern Ontario to push this forwards.”
He said he and others lobbied for about four years after the cancellation to bring back the spring bear hunt, but eventually gave up in frustration.
Ramakko points out that the jurisdictions surrounding Ontario have benefitted from the cancelled spring hunt — the popular pastime for American tourists has cross-border hunters going there to do their hunting instead.
And while many of constituents would support the hunt's return, Bisson said he think's Mauro's bill is more about the Liberal Party's health than about his support for the spring bear hunt.
“I would venture to guess Mr. Mauro looked at his polling numbers and ... he's trying to find a bit of a hail Mary at a time that the Liberal government is very, very unpopular,” said Bisson.
The “real test,” he added, will be whether the Liberal government will support Mauro's bill, adding that they've done nothing to reinstate the spring bear hunt during their 10 years in power.
At the time, all three party leaders — including the NDP's leader — said they supported the move, Bisson said, acknowledging the 1999 cancellation was deeply unpopular in Northern Ontario.
But perhaps the most galling part of the cancellation, he said, is the province hasn't put in place an effective bear management system, Bisson said.
In recent years, the Ministry of Natural Resources has stopped responding to nuisance bear calls, leaving local police officers to shoot problem animals.
Bisson said he's not ready to say whether he's in favour of Mauro's bill at this point, as the NDP's caucus hasn't yet discussed the matter.
In the release, Mauro said the concern with the spring hunt was the orphaning of cubs, and his bill would introduce measures to protect female bears and cubs.
But orphaning really wasn't much of a problem at all, Ramakko said. The animals that become nuisances in urban areas are the smaller bears – between 100 and 300 pounds – who are hungry because they're chased away from food-rich areas of the forest by large bears.
Because spring bear hunters use bait, it's these smaller, hungry bears — the ones who become nuisances — which are shot. With the use of bait, it's easy for hunters to spot mother bears and not kill them, Ramakko said.
“If you go back to 1999 and look at how many studies with orphaned cubs, there were few orphaned cubs reported,” he said.
“When you have mother bears and cubs coming into cities and cops having to dispatch bears, there's actually been more reported orphaned cubs.”
According to Mauro, a spring bear hunt would:
-Reduce the likelihood of aggressive bear attacks.
-Help protect crops and livestock.
-Reduce bears' impact on bees.
-Boost Northern Ontario's moose population.
-Increase tourist activity in Northern Ontario.