More than 250 hunters and tourist operators converged on the Legion Hall in Dryden last Thursday night to protest the Harris government’s decision last month to cancel the spring bear hunt.
And they’ve decided to fight back against the negativity surrounding the bear hunt as a result of the million-dollar campaign, initiated largely in part by the Schad Foundation and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
“It’s sad when one man can run Ontario if he has money,” said Shawn O’Donnell, president of the Fort Frances Sportsmen’s Club and chairman of Zone A of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH).
He’s adamant against the province’s decision to abruptly end the spring bear hunt.
“If we don’t do something, then it will never end until hunting is abolished in Ontario or Canada,” he argued. “And it’s ironic in that the biggest conservationists in the world are hunters and fishermen.”
O’Donnell also suggested nuisance bears may become more of a problem if the spring hunt is axed.
“Let’s face it, there are going to be at least 4,000 more bears around every summer,” agreed Rick Morgan, executive vice-president of the OFAH.
“The government’s own figures prove Ontario’s bear population is large, healthy, and growing,” he noted. “Conservation objectives have been met and there was no biological or fact-based reason to cancel the hunt.”
But Arlene Byrnes, a bylaw enforcement officer for Fort Frances, said she doesn’t expect there will be much of a bear problem in town as a result of the cancelled hunt.
Last year, just one bear was shot by a tranquilizer and that was done by the local Ministry of Natural Resources due to the complexity of the situation, she noted.
Still, the province’s own figures do show Ontario has one of the largest bear populations in North America (estimated at 75,000-100,000), and is considered stable and growing.
Animal rights groups oppose the spring bear hunt, saying cubs are often left orphaned after sows are shot. But the Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Association (NOTO) argues the MNR does not have accurate figures on the exact number of orphaned cubs in the province.
In fact, many camp owners report very few instances of sows being shot in their many years in business.
Both the OFAH and NOTO have joined forces to create a monetary fund—sponsored through donations by hunters and outfitters—that will help bolster their arguments to maintain the spring bear hunt.
They already have begun to take legal action against the province, hiring a Toronto-based law firm to fight the sudden cancellation.
They also want to drown out the province’s animal rights activists in hopes of deterring the province from making any more sudden, widespread bans on hunting.
Natural Resources minister John Snobelen’s sudden announcement Jan. 15 to end the spring bear hunt—starting this year—shocked most operators, many of whom already had taken bookings or were attending sports shows in the U.S. to drum up business.
They stand to lose millions of dollars in lost revenue. Many also will hire fewer employees, or hire them later in the year than usual. Some may go bankrupt altogether.
Businesses such as gas stations and convenience stores also expect to feel a spin-off financial hardship associated with the cancelled hunt.
But even though the government is allowing the public a 30-day consultation period that ends Feb. 20, the general consensus is the damage already has been done—not only for this year but for many more to come.
Snobelen has indicated Ontario will extend the fall bear hunt by two weeks. But that compromise has fallen on deaf ears, with many outfitters agreeing it won’t nearly cover the losses of the two-month spring hunt.
“The fall hunt basically doesn’t work because the bears have full grains, critters, berries, lots to eat,” argued Lorraine Cupp, who has owned Lagrange Bear Baiting Services here for the past 20 years along with her husband, Rod.
“The American [hunters] are just going to go to Manitoba [in the spring], and stay at home in the fall and shoot deer,” she warned.
Cupp said they have 12 American hunters already confirmed, and as many as three more possible. But they have yet to cancel any of the bookings in hopes the government will change its stance on the spring hunt.
Meanwhile, she said Americans are shaking their heads at the decision.
“We’ve phoned all of our guys and they’re sure mad at the [Ontario] government,” Cupp noted. “They did it exactly with no warning.
“They can’t believe one guy could have that much power—they’re asking if we have a dictatorship up here,” she added.