By Chris Marchand
Press were told to leave a meeting to update regional tourism outfitters on the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s provincial black bear management strategy, Apr. 5 in Dryden.
Moving what was anticipated to be a small gathering over to the venue’s largest conference space as outfitters arrived in droves from all corners of the region, the MNR presentation outlined the guiding principles of the province’s bear management strategy and offered a look at population and harvest data from around the province.
The MNR estimates black bears in the province to number between 85,000 to 105,000 with population densities the highest in the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Forest type and lowest in pure boreal landscapes.
Provincewide, in 2015 around 6,500 bears were harvested, around 3,700 of which were claimed by resident hunters.
In the Northwest however, non-resident hunters account for a far higher proportion of the harvest (approximately 1,250 versus 450), which may account for the interest among the region’s tourism operators.
“The crowd there was, I wouldn’t say it was a hostile crowd, but they were quite vocal, they were upset,” said outfitter Clifford Long. “This is going to cost the region a lot of money. Quite a few of us are considering not even running hunts again.”
A long-time critic of the 15-year cancellation of the spring bear hunt, the Cobblestone Lodge outfitter says he has the feeling that a newly pilot program to reinstate the spring hunt may be more about pic-a-nic baskets than it is about tourism outfitters.
“It sounds to me like they’re trying to address a nuisance bear issue for the benefit of people in the cities,” said Long. “It has nothing to do with actual hunting.”
While outfitters may have travelled from far and wide in search of answers to their questions, Long says ministry reps had few answers to offer on some contentious regulations. In particular one rule that states bear bait cannot be placed within 200 metres of a public road or trail, which Long says many outfitters find to be onerous and difficult for some of their clients.
With the penalty for the killing of a bear sow with cubs during the spring season a $25,000 fine and up to one year in prison, Long says outfitters have questions about their liability to what amounts to a serious crime.
“We asked them a number of times, ‘do they think that we would be liable for that?” said Long. “And they wouldn’t give us an answer. While it’s never happened to me (shooting a sow by mistake), you can’t go to a sports show and tell everybody, ‘C’mon out, but if you make a mistake and shoot a sow with cubs, it’s $25,000 and a year in jail— they’re going to turn away.”