Ontario is home to a healthy and sustainable bear population that contributes to the province's biodiversity. The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has heard increasingly from some northern Ontario communities that they are concerned about public safety and conflicts with bears. In response, the ministry is proposing a pilot program to help address this conflict with problem bears. The pilot project is proposed to take place in 8 wildlife management units (WMU 13, 14, 29, 30, 36, 39, 41 and 42), all of which have reported high levels of nuisance bear activity. There are 57 communities in and around these units including Timmins, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay.
The pilot would consist of a limited early bear hunting season for Ontario residents from May 1st to June 15th, in 2014 and 2015. The harvest of bear cubs and female bears accompanied by a cub or cubs would be prohibited during this season. The pilot project would utilize the existing bear hunter licensing framework and resident bear licences would be valid for both the pilot and regular fall seasons. Resident hunters may only harvest one bear per year unless hunting in an area where a second bear seal is available. There will also be a mandatory bear hunter activity and harvest reporting requirement for spring to complement the current fall bear hunting reporting requirement and facilitate more timely assessment of the spring season. All other provisions for hunting black bear in the province of Ontario will apply to the early season pilot project.
The two-year pilot project will include efforts to assess the merits of an early black bear hunt in reducing human-bear conflicts, and increasing public safety in northern communities. The effectiveness of this approach will be jointly assessed with participating municipalities. Generally, the pilot will be assessed in a number of ways, including: tracking the number and type of calls to the Bear Wise reporting line from the pilot area and other communities, to compare results; monitoring the number of bear hunters and the number of bears harvested; working with the pilot municipalities to identify changing trends in human-bear encounters, and; working with municipalities to explore ways to limit human-bear interactions such as tracking the number of municipal by-laws to discourage the feeding of bears.
Amendments to the following regulations under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (FWCA) would be required to support the implementation of the pilot project;
A) O. Reg 670/98 (Open Seasons) to establish an open season for black bear in WMUs 13, 14, 29, 30, 36, 39, 41 and 42 from May 1 to June 15 in 2014 and 2015.
B) Ontario Regulation (O. Reg) 665/98; to prohibit shooting, or attempting to shoot at, a cub or a female bear accompanied by a cub or cubs during May or June, and to add a mandatory hunter activity and harvest reporting requirement for the spring season to complement the current fall bear hunt reporting requirement.