Deep beneath the snows of northern Ontario, perhaps the largest population of black bears in North America is dozing the winter away.
But above ground, wide awake and angry nearly 1,000 outfitters and hunting guides are getting together to vent about bears and the spring hunt that Ontario's Conservative government plans to cancel.
Some of the people in northern Ontario who say the bear hunt ban will hurt them aren't just angry: they're puzzled. This isn't something they expected from the Mike Harris government, a government long thought of as hunter friendly. It's also a government that just until a few months ago considered the hunt valid wildlife management.
Some blame environmentalists who have fought hard to have the bear hunt cancelled. They say the hunt is cruel, that too many cubs are left orphaned.
For 27 years Texas MacDonald has earned his living escorting Americans into the woods of northern Ontario, like many who rely heavily on the $40 million spring hunt industry. MacDonald says he smells an election: "It's just strictly political," he said. He says it is all about the rural north versus the urban south.
Even fading rock star Ted Nugent has entered the fray. Nugent, an avid hunter, believes the hunt should continue. "They buckled under this ridiculous pressure so we've got to make a stand." Nugent is asking hunters to steer clear of northern Ontario.
This Sunday, a rally is planned in Lindsay, Ont. Organizers say they expect anywhere from 50 to 1,500 supporters to show up.
A compromise could be in the offing. Premier Harris has suggested one solution may be to allow more bears to be killed in the fall to compensate for cancelling the spring hunt.