Ontario is home to a healthy and sustainable black bear population that contributes to the province’s biodiversity. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) heard increasingly from Ontario communities that they are concerned about conflicts with bears. In response, in 2014 and 2015 the ministry implemented a two-year spring bear hunting pilot program in eight Wildlife Management Units (13, 14, 29, 30, 36, 39, 41 and 42) to see if it would have effects on human-bear conflicts.
The ministry is now proposing to extend and expand the spring black bear hunting season pilot for an additional 5 years with the following modifications:
• Expand to all Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) that currently have a fall black bear hunting season (i.e., 88 WMUs);
• Increase the scope by adding non-resident hunters; and
• Regulate the baiting of black bears.
The proposed pilot would provide additional data with which to assess the impacts of the spring black bear hunting season and help inform long-term black bear management activities. The pilot is also expected to increase the economic benefits derived from bear hunting for tourist outfitters and local economies. The pilot would begin in the spring of 2016 and end June 15, 2020.
The harvest of bear cubs and female bears accompanied by a cub would be illegal during the spring bear hunting pilot. The pilot project would use the existing bear hunter licensing framework. 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. Non-resident hunters may only harvest one bear per year. There would also be a mandatory bear hunter activity and harvest reporting requirement for the spring season, consistent with the current fall bear hunting reporting requirement. All other provisions for hunting black bears in the province of Ontario would apply to the spring season.
MNRF is also seeking comments on ways to regulate the practice of black bear baiting in Ontario for all open bear hunting seasons (both spring and fall). Regulatory amendments under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997 to regulate the activity of baiting black bears would be considered in light of comments received on the following specific elements. The elements of black bear baiting activities include, but are not limited to:
• Permitted placement (e.g., baits must not be placed within a specified distance from private land, occupied dwellings, roadways and railways, canoe portages, marked trails, protected areas, etc.);
• Permitted timing (e.g., placement of bait restricted to the open hunting season in spring or fall and the preceding two weeks);
• Bait removal (e.g., clarifying the requirement to remove all bait and associated materials when the hunting season ends);
• Method of baiting (e.g., requirement to use suspended bait to facilitate identification and protection of females with cubs in the spring); and
• Amount/content of bait (e.g., bait limited to 10 kg).
The regulation of baiting of black bears is intended to avoid creating habituation in black bears to artificial food sources and to reduce the potential conflict with people engaged in other recreational activities. The proposed regulation of these elements of black bear baiting will include consideration of all comments received on the proposal.
The five-year pilot would include efforts to assess the impacts of an early black bear season in reducing human-bear conflicts in northern communities. Generally, the pilot would be assessed in a number of ways including: monitoring the number of bear hunters and the number of bears harvested, tracking the number and type of calls to the Bear Wise reporting line, working with municipalities to identify changing trends in human-bear encounters and to explore ways to reduce human-bear interactions, stakeholder perspectives, economic benefits, and other associated factors (e.g., variation in spring green-up date, and variation in availability of natural foods).
Amendments to the following regulations under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997 would be required to support the implementation of the pilot project:
(a) Ontario Regulation 670/98 (Open Seasons - Wildlife) to establish an open season for black bear in WMUs 1-19, 21-50, 53-64, 66-69, 71-76, 83, the geographic townships of Keppel and Sarawak in 82A and the geographic township of Amabel in 84 from May 1 to June 15 in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.
(b) Ontario Regulation 665/98 (Hunting) to prohibit shooting, or attempting to shoot at, a cub or a female bear accompanied by a cub or cubs during May or June, to establish the mandatory questionnaire relating to the hunting activities carried out during the pilot project, and to establish the rules associated with baiting black bear.