The VOICE of Anglers and Hunters since 1928

Why the spring bear hunt must be reinstated

August 20, 2002

The following is a letter sent by Dr. Terry Quinney, Provincial Manager of Fish and Wildlife for the O.F.A.H., to various media outlets regarding the spring bear hunt.

Dear Editor:

The following material may be used as an open letter to the editor, or it may well serve as an opinion column in your publication. Please feel free to use this material to help give perspective to the issue of the spring bear hunt in Ontario. If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact the author.


The spring bear hunt was a wildlife management tool that provided biological, social and economic benefits. The spring hunt reduced bear densities, particularly of male bears, and helped control the size of the bear population. This reduced cannibalism by male bears, reduced competition among bears for food, reduced the numbers of deer fawns and moose calves preyed upon by bears, and reduced nuisance bear problems, thereby protecting public safety and reducing the costs to society of nuisance bear controls.

Absence of a spring hunt has resulted in more nuisance bears in spring and summer because there are more bears in the population, and more cannibalistic male bears in the woods that other bears try to avoid. These other bears must seek food in other areas, such as near towns. Berry crops failures worsen these effects. These factors explain the unprecedented number of nuisance bear problems that the province is now experiencing, including the unprecedented number of bears being shot as nuisances, unprecedented number of orphan cubs appearing at wildlife rehabilitation centers, and unprecedented number of bears being trapped and “relocated.� (Ministry of Natural Resources [M.N.R.] published information states that trapping/relocation as a nuisance bear management tool has a failure rate of 80% for adult bears.)

A recent M.N.R. study indicates that there are up to 150,000 black bears in Ontario. During the spring hunt, about 4,000 bears were harvested every spring. Thus, by this summer (2002), 16,000 more bears are in the population because there has been no spring hunt since 1998, and the fall harvest of bears has not increased to compensate for the loss of the spring hunt.

According to M.N.R. information, at least 10,000 cubs die every year for reasons that have nothing to do with hunting. (Starvation and cannibalism are the largest sources of cub mortality.) The best estimate of cubs accidentally orphaned by hunters (it was illegal for hunters to kill sows with cubs) published by an M.N.R. bear biologist, was less than 27 per year. But as a direct result of the cancellation of the spring bear hunt, up to 2,500 more cubs are dying each year. In other words, in a purported effort to save about 25 cubs from accidental hunter error, the government’s cancellation of the hunt has directly caused up to one hundred times more cubs than that to die each year.

The absence of a spring bear hunt has caused significant negative consequences for people as well as bears. From government economic data, we estimated that the impact of Ontario’s spring bear hunt for the 12-year period (1987 to 1998) included an overall sales impact of between $350 – $500 million, 2,600 – 3,600 years of employment, and the participation of 90,000 – 100,000 hunters. The spring hunt was worth over $46 million in 1996 alone, and was an important contribution to the economy of northern Ontario in the spring. When the spring hunt was cancelled in 1999, there were about 600 outfitter businesses providing services to about 8,000 customers annually. These outfitters, in turn, depended on other businesses for goods and services such as fuel, equipment, etc. Additionally, in 1996 alone, municipal, provincial and federal governments collected almost $4 million in taxes directly attributable to the spring bear hunt. Bankruptcy, job loss, and personal tragedy have been the legacy of the cancellation of the spring bear hunt for the outfitter industry.

Further, as a long-established hunting tradition in Ontario, the spring bear hunt provided important personal and cultural benefits to thousands of hunters each year. Hunting heritages go back much farther than recorded history. They go back to time immemorial because all humans are the descendants of successful hunters. For individual spring bear hunters, the hunt provided opportunities to renew their connection with nature and be rewarded with the riches of the hunting experience, including self-fulfillment, spiritual renewal and enlightenment, the possibility of wholesome food for the family table, valuable hides, and sharing knowledge gained with fellow hunters, family and friends.

The cancellation of the spring bear hunt was bad for people and bad for bears. Surely, it is time our elected provincial politicians (Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat alike) admit that for the good of society and the good of the black bear population, the spring bear hunt must be reinstated.

Terry Quinney, Ph.D.
Provincial Manager of Fish and Wildlife Services
Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters
Peterborough, Ontario