An area tourist operator charged the province’s decision to scrap the spring bear hunt in Ontario is strictly a political one that will affect the financially viability of hundreds of businesses across the region.
Bud Dickson, owner of Canoe Canada Outfitters in Atikokan, also stressed tourist operators were not given adequate time to replace the lost revenue from spring bear hunters.
Natural Resources minister John Snobelen announced the decision Friday afternoon, leaving operators just a few months to make the necessary adjustments to their businesses and to notify guests—many of them Americans who already have made vacation plans.
The spring hunt was slated to begin April 15 and run through to June 15 in most parts of the province.
Dickson said many businesses will have to lay off employees and, in some cases, declare bankruptcy.
“It couldn’t have come at a worst time,” he lamented. “They have already invested time and money at sports shows, and now people are going to have to return deposits and they’ll have a lot of empty cabins.
“What the [province] is doing is unethical,” he charged. “Operators are right in the middle of marketing plans for ’99—this will have a huge impact and it will be bad for the province.
“We’ve been shortchanged . . . I just can’t believe it,” Dickson fumed.
Individual tourist operators estimate they will lose $100,000-$150,000 with the scrapping of the spring bear hunt starting this year.
Hugh Carlson, president of the Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters, said based on a study done in 1995, the spring bear hunt is a 40-million dollar-a-year industry.
While he admitted the hunt is just “two or three percent” of his total business at Viking Outpost Cabins in Red Lake, Carlson said he recently talked to an outfitter who confided the spring bear hunt accounts for 50 percent of his business.
Peter Wilkins, resource specialist with the Ministry of Natural Resources here, said there are about 136 bear management areas in the Fort Frances District.
Meanwhile, Dickson said there was absolutely no phase-in, phase-out period
“We will now have to tell our guests that there will no longer be a spring bear hunt,” he noted. “They are doing this because they feel [the hunt] is unethical but [tourist operators] feel we have been blindsided.”
The province has said it would compensate tourist operators who already have invested “resources” into this year’s hunt although Friday’s announcement provided no details on how—or how much.
But while Dickson said he has faith the Harris government realizes the economic impact this decision will have on small businesses in Northwestern Ontario, he wondered what kind of message is it sending.
“It’s absolutely barbaric. I’m angry and upset,” he stressed.
What’s worse, said Dickson, is the fact the bear population in the province is in “excellent shape.” Ontario is considered to have one of the largest bear populations in the North America with an estimated 75,000-100,000 animals.
The province said the decision to end the spring bear hunt was made because it will not “tolerate cubs being orphaned by hunters mistakenly shooting mother bears in the spring.”
And Snobelen defended the move.
“Many people have told us that the way the hunt is conducted and the inevitable loss of some cubs is unacceptable,” he noted in a press release.
“We have reviewed current practices and considered modifications but none provide assurance that young bears and their mothers would be protected as they emerge from their dens in the spring.
“Stopping the hunt is the only protection for the animals,” he argued.
But Carlson said the shooting of sows is actually “very rare” and the decision to scrap the hunt is simply a political one.
“No one wants orphan cubs or orphan anything,” said Carlson, adding he’s never had a hunter shoot a mother bear in 51 years at his business. “Occasionally a mother bear will be shot but occasionally hunters shoot their partners. It’s very rare—not very common.”
The decision also was applauded by environmental groups led by The Schad Foundation, based in southern Ontario, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the world’s largest international animal welfare organization.
“It is very encouraging that the government has taken a positive ethical stand on this important issue,” said Schad Foundation president Robert Schad.
“[We] fully endorse the government’s position that the only way to avoid orphaning cubs is to end the spring bear hunt,” he added.
Rick Smith, national director for IFAW-Canada, noted Ontario is the first jurisdiction in Canada to “end this abhorrent practice outright.” The IFAW estimates the Ontario spring bear hunt results in the “slaughter of over 4,000 bears each season.”
“Ending the spring hunt is one of the most positive changes to wildlife management in recent Canadian memory,” said Smith. “We called for an end to this hunt and we will support this decision in any way we can.
“In fact, we would be willing to work with any Canadian province that follows Ontario’s leadership in this area,” he added.