A wildlife biologist says older, nuisance bears were likely not responding to the Ministry of Natural Resources trapping and relocation program.

Joe Hamr, who also teaches at Sudbury’s Cambrian College, studied bears from 1996-1998. He and his team collared close to 40 bears — of different sex and ages — to see how effective relocation was. They followed the bears with a radio receiver.

What they discovered was most of the mature bears, if they had established a home range already, came back. Given that bears can travel about 10 kilometres a day, a bear relocated 100 kilometres away could return to an area in about 10 days.

However, when juvenile bears (those up to three years of age) were relocated, "in most cases they stayed out there," Hamr said.

Keeping bears away

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters said the Ministry of Natural Resources knew for years that trapping and relocating bears was a waste of money.

OFAH spokesperson Terry Quinney said the ministry's own science showed that bears eventually found their way back.  

Because the bears that come back are larger and older, people are justifiably worried.

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Studies have shown that younger bears will not come back once they are relocated. (Yvon Theriault/CBC)

Hamr’s antidote for this is simple: people need to ensure they do not have any bear attractants  — such as birdfeeders and rotting food waste — around their homes.

"There's no question, if you don't have any attractants around your place, the bears will keep on moving," Hamr said.

"I've been living in the bush for close to 25 years ... but we really have nothing for the bears to eat ... so they just move on."

Ontarians face a greater danger from bears because of provincial government cutbacks to the number of workers trained to deal with bears, said Smokey Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

He noted the number of those workers has been cut by more than half — a move he said was "ill-advised."

Quinney added that now the trapping and removal program has been cancelled —  and unless Ontario reinstates the spring hunt — nuisance bears will just be destroyed.

"That's a high probability," Quinney said. "Unfortunately, I think the shooting of problem bears by police forces, for example the OPP, is going to continue."

Relocate younger bears

According to Hamr’s research, there is still value in trapping and relocating bears up to three years of age.

"To me, the best way to go about this would be to look at the age of the animal ... and take the young ones out of town … because they are not attached to a home range," he said.

In the meantime, Hamr said people can chase away bears from their back yards.

"Aversive conditioning works, but you have to know what you're doing," Hamr said.

"Get out of your house, make some noise [and] they will leave. If this happens repeatedly, at the same place, they will go to a place where they feel less threatened."

Figures obtained by CBC News show that 623 bears were trapped and relocated in Ontario last year.