May 1st marked the full return of the spring bear hunt in Ontario. While the immediate benefits to bear management, bear hunters and northern businesses and communities are obvious, there is a much bigger picture to consider behind the saga of Ontario’s spring bear hunt.
At its core, this is about what drives wildlife management decisions in Ontario.
The rebound of wildlife populations across North America from the overexploitation of the 18th and 19th centuries is largely due to something called the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation – a set of principles that lays out how wildlife should be managed for healthy ecosystems and public benefit. One principle is that wildlife management should be informed by science. This is definitely not what happened in 1999 when the spring hunt was cancelled, and the past two decades have been as much about fighting for that principle as they have been for getting the spring bear hunt back.
It’s a great story and one that is pretty unique in North America. When regulated, sustainable hunts are lost due to political pressure they rarely, if ever, come back. The fact that the OFAH and Ontario’s hunters fought this battle and won has gotten recognition and interest well beyond our borders with hunters in other regions looking to learn from our experience. Here are some key lessons that the OFAH has learned over the last twenty years. These apply to many situations where the sustainable activities that we as hunters and anglers love are challenged by people for no supported scientific reasons, solely because they hold different views than we do.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
Simply put, we can do more working together than working separately. For this reason, I highly recommend joining an organization that shares your values and beliefs. If you are an angler or hunter, there are many reasons to support the OFAH. The more support we have, the more weight we can put behind our advocacy to make improbable changes, like the return of the spring bear hunt, possible.
KEEP THE PRESSURE ON
One of the benefits of being part of an organization is that focus can be maintained on an issue for longer than individuals could do on their own. I was lucky to work for the OFAH during the final SBH push over the past few years, but as I’ve said this is the end of two decades of steady pressure. Over those two decades, we’ve kept the spring bear hunt front and centre and never let it slip into the background.
MAKE SURE YOUR ARGUMENTS ARE SOLID
If you look at how the OFAH has talked about the spring bear hunt over the last twenty years, you’ll see that our messaging has evolved. As new research has come out, we’ve worked to update our messaging, rather than relying on outdated or incorrect information. In contrast, some groups opposed to the spring bear hunt are still repeating the debunked claims about cub orphaning from 1999, often with the exact same flawed numbers and logic.
KEEP AN EYE TO THE FUTURE
The spring bear hunt was vulnerable in 1999 because the details of the hunt and the motivation of bear hunters were not well understood. While most non-hunters can instinctively understand the benefits of hunting deer (e.g. getting meat or reducing the chances of vehicle collisions), less popular hunts are often misunderstood. In the lead up to the return to the spring bear hunt, we received messages from the public saying they supported hunting but not if the animal wasn’t going to be eaten. That’s right, many people think that bear hunters don’t eat the meat they harvest. When a hunt is misunderstood, it’s easy to attack. We’re starting to see similar misunderstandings about coyote hunting in southern Ontario. We need to watch out for these more vulnerable hunts as it can be the start of a slippery slope.
Hunting is a long-standing tradition, an important social and cultural activity, an economic powerhouse, and a crucial wildlife management tool. The OFAH will continue to apply these lessons, along with almost a century of experience, to ensure it stays that way, regardless of whether we’re talking about bears, moose, deer, or any other of Ontario’s treasured game species.
— This post was originally published in the May edition of the Northern Ontario Outdoors Guide.