Nuisance bear calls now go to OPP

Police say there has been an increase in bear calls since those complaints started being funnelled to the OPP instead of the Ministry of Natural Resources.
The OPP says that calls complaining about bears in northern Ontario have increased. (Bill Roth/Associated Press)

Lynn Rogers was standing in his bedroom at his cottage in northern Ontario when a bear peered through the window at him.

Rogers doesn't keep a gun, so he yelled at the bear. It kept coming back, so he brandished a chainsaw and that noise did the trick.

"I figured not only would it frighten him off, but if it didn't it would be a heck of weapon," Rogers said.

Until recently, Rogers, whose cottage is in McGregor Bay, which is in the north-east part of Georgian Bay near Manitoulin Island, could have called the Ministry of Natural Resources to come trap and relocate the bear.

But those calls are now being funnelled to the Ontario Provincial Police, because the previous practice wasn't working. The bears would remember where they had found food, and kept returning to favourite haunts.

Now that the police are acting as bear first responders, it's unclear what their standard practice will be. Police will try to avoid shooting them, said spokesman Sgt. Pierre Chamberland.

Provincial police Sgt. Peter Leon said police will "assess and deal with the situation in what is the most appropriate manner." Police will try to scare a bear away and make it afraid of people before resorting to shooting it, he said.

Even when the Ministry of Natural Resources took the lead on bear calls, police were called in to deal with emergency situations. But police say there has been an increase in bear calls to police since the change came into place in May.

182 bears shot in 2010

While Chamberland says the police don't keep track of the number of bears they have dealt with, they do log hours spent dealing with those calls. In June, they spent about 511 hours responding to bear calls, and as of July 24, they had spent 219.

In 2010, the last year for which data was available from the ministry, 182 bears were shot by officials province-wide.

Last year the ministry trapped and relocated 623 bears. They also immobilized and relocated 107 in 2011.

Elizabeth Quinn, a retired nurse manager who also has a cottage in McGregor Bay, believes the drought-like conditions that have resulted from little rain have left fewer berries and other natural food sources for bears, making cottage kitchens more attractive.

Quinn has taken it upon herself to teach other community members how to operate safely in bear country. She said the bears continue to visit because they're attracted to the food and garbage people leave out.

"This is not a bear problem," she said. "This is a people problem."

Last summer, bears broke into cottages in her area about 45 times in three weeks. And three times last summer, a bear broke into a cottage while people were home.

Rogers' cottage had one of its walls torn in by a bear a few years ago. The bear broke in through the dryer vent and ravaged the pantry, where the family kept basic food through the winter. The hole was patched up, and the spot that had been repaired was undetectable.

The bear came back the next year and ripped open the exact same spot. Luckily, Rogers and his family weren't there at the time.

Michael Gravelle, minister of natural resources, said the rest of the ministry's Bear Wise program is still in place. The program aims to educate the public about what kind of behaviour they can expect from bears, and what to do when they encounter one.

The Bear Wise program, which consists of a website and 24-hour hotline, has cost $33 million since its genesis in 2004.