The Spring Bear Hunt

Jan 04

One of the many decisions facing the incoming government of Dalton McGuinty will be whether or not to re-instate the spring bear hunt. It's hard to say which way the Liberals will go. Mr. McGuinty is on record as being against the hunt, but the new Natural Resources minister, David Ramsay is in favour.

As a Buddhist, I am not really a supporter of any kind of hunting. However I can, grudgingly, admit that hunters do have a couple of reasonable arguments to justify their sport. If, they say, one is going to eat meat, then at least the animal is killed cleanly and doesn't suffer constantly like a factory farmed hog. And, they add, it is almost the only way these days to get meat that is free of antibiotics and other contaminants .

Bears, however, are almost never killed for food. This is "trophy" hunting, killing a magnificent wild animal just for fun. Moreover, unlike other forms of hunting, the way bears are hunted in Ontario is decidedly unsportsmanlike. The animal is baited. In fact, it is baited by the bear-guide for some time before the opening of the hunt, to habituate it to showing up at the desired location at a predictable time. The hunter is safely ensconced in an elevated blind as he blasts away. Little skill or woodcraft is required, just a rifle and a license. It's almost a travesty to call this "hunting."

When bears were hunted in the spring it was often the case that cubs would be orphaned to die miserably. It is not always easy to identify the sex of a bear, and females with cubs will often scout ahead leaving their cubs to wait in a tree.

The supporters of the hunt have been fear-mongering with stories of a huge increase in nuisance bears since the closure of the spring hunt. This is, to put it charitably, nonsense. I live in the North, and I know about nuisance bears. They come to human settlements looking for food only in years of drought. Or, if the humans are stupid and leave garbage and other bait out to entice them. Even the government report on nuisance bears admitted as much, although the panel chosen was stacked in favour of the hunt.

It is true that there is a general resentment in Northern Ontario over the closure of the spring hunt. In large part this is a result of the clumsy and heavy-handed way the decision was laid down without consultation or warning. This gave those with an economic stake in the hunt a talking point to Northerners who are generally prickly about "Toronto" telling them what to do.

So, fearing a northern backlash, the Tory government set up its "Nuisance Bear" commission. Their report came to the conclusion that although the closure had no effect whatsoever on the so-called nuisance bear problem, the spring hunt should be re-instated for "socio-economic reasons." This statement encapsulates everything that is wrong with the way we have hitherto looked upon wild-life. Black bears are natural beings with lives and consciousness of their own. Is it morally defensible to kill them for the simple fun of killing if the province and some outfitters make money out of it?

It is high time for a new attitude towards the wild and it's inhabitants. Instead of looking at them as "resources" to be "harvested" we ought to respect and cherish them in their own right. Maybe the Ministry of Natural Resources should be renamed the Ministry of Nature and it's mandate defined as stewardship rather than exploitation for "socio-economic reasons."

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