Ontario government proposes full return of annual spring black bear hunt

The Ontario government is launching consultations on a proposal to reinstate a spring black bear hunt. File / Getty Images

The Ontario government is launching a consultation process on its proposal for the reinstatement of the annual spring black bear hunting season.

In Peterborough on Friday, John Yakabuski, Natural Resources and Forestry minister, announced a plan to make the current spring black bear hunting pilot project an annual hunt, subject to annual review.

The pilot project was introduced in 2014 after the annual hunt was cancelled in 1999. The pilot was expanded in 2016.

“Ontario is home to a healthy bear population,” stated Yakabuski. “The province will continue to monitor black bear populations, harvest results and sustainability indicators to inform an annual review and ensure bear populations are managed sustainably.”

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The province says as part of the proposal, all protections for Ontario’s black bear population would remain in place. That includes the existing ban to hunt black bear cubs, as well as females with cubs, in the springtime. The offence carries a potential fine of up to $25,000 and one-year imprisonment.

Yakabuski noted the province is also proposing to reduce the bear hunting season on the Bruce Peninsula due to a reported decline in the black bear population in that region.

The province says the current pilot project has been “well-received” by northern communities, tourism and hunting industries. The province says in 2017, black bear hunters in Ontario spent an estimated $50.6 million in hunting-related purchases. Each year 25,000 bear licences are sold, generating $2.4 million in revenue used to support fish and wildlife management, the province said.

In a release, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters says it has for years been advocating for a full restoration of the spring bear hunt.

“The spring bear hunt was always a sustainable wildlife management activity,” stated Dr. Keith Munro, OFAH wildlife biologist. “Nothing has changed in that regard since it was cancelled and today’s proposal is a final step towards correcting a long-standing mistake. In our view, it’s long overdue.”

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The new proposal for a regular hunting season was led by the Big Game Management Advisory Committee (BGMAC) which formed in the spring of 2019 to focus on how to improve big game management.

“We are listening to the concerns of northern Ontarians and the tourism industry that an ongoing pilot spring season creates economic uncertainty,” said Yakabuski. “A regular, monitored spring bear hunting season would enable tourism outfitters and camp owners to better plan their operations for the entire year, while also allowing hunters to better plan their activities and support local businesses.”

The province is also proposing updates to black bear regulations:

  • Eliminating special black bear hunting opportunities for non-resident landowners and non-residents hunting with immediate relatives.
  • Requiring people guiding resident bear hunters for commercial purposes to obtain a “Licence to Provide Black Bear Hunting Services.”

The proposed changes are now available on the Environmental Registry of Ontario for public feedback until Feb. 18.

OFAH executive director Angelo Lombardo says over the next 30 days it will call on the outdoors community to voice its support of the spring bear hunt.

“After more than two decades, we aren’t taking anything for granted,” he said. “The OFAH will never back down on fighting for black bear management, including the full reinstatement and the future protection of Ontario’s spring bear hunt. The pilot has been great in demonstrating what we already knew about the benefits, but the full restoration has been our ultimate goal since 1999.”

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