Sudbury

As spring bear hunt begins, environmentalists try to shut it down

For the first time in 17 years, the spring bear hunt is now open all across Ontario, including the northern region. But as the hunt returns, environmental lobbyists are ramping up in opposition.

The spring bear hunt is a pilot project, and will be re-evaluated by the province in five years

The spring bear hunt is underway this week in Ontario for the first time since 1999.

For the first time in 17 years, the spring bear hunt is now open all across Ontario, including the northern region. But as the hunt returns, environmental lobbyists are ramping up in opposition.

The return of the spring bear hunt is political said AnnaMaria Valastro, a lead campaigner with Peaceful Parks.

"It's not about keeping people safe."

She wrote an editorial in the Toronto Star last week, calling for the spring bear hunt to once again be deemed illegal. She added she feels the hunt is unethical and is more about making money for outfitters than keeping the public safe.

"We've never been able to win anything easily ... So, we have no illusions. But that's not what's motivating us, we want is to have a public dialogue" said Valastro, who expects this to be a long fight.

North vs. south: political divide

Valastro said it's unfortunate the bear hunt has become caught up in the political divide between north and south Ontario.

"These are large issues, intrinsic universal issues and no one person has domain over these issues more than another person," said Valastro.

She told CBC News she tried to get data from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry about the reason behind the return of the hunt and the science behind it.

She said she tried — through a Freedom of Information request — to get a report from the last two years of the MNRF pilot project, but said she received nothing.

Much of the lobbying in the 1990s to get the government to scrap the hunt came from the Schad Foundation.

"I don't believe it was a north-south issue, it wasn't a conservation issue, it was an issue of ethics," founder Peter Kendall said, adding he felt the heart of the matter got lost in the political storm.

American and European hunters are also able to take part for the first time since the hunt was cancelled in 1999. (CBC file photo)

Reviewing the data

When CBC Sudbury requested a response from the MNRF, their communications representative, Jolanta Kowalski, emailed a statement.

"We continue to review the preliminary data we have. One of the reasons we decided to expand the pilot for five more years was to gather more data about the spring hunt.

"While science shows one of the biggest influence on the number of human-bear encounters is the availability of natural food sources, we also understand that bear-related public concerns are very real for people living in northern and central Ontario. We've extended the spring bear hunt pilot because we are committed to assisting those communities and to support economic growth and tourism in northern and central Ontario."

This is the first year the bear hunt is open all across the province and not just in select areas, like it was over the last two trial years.

American and European hunters are also able to take part, for the first time since the hunt was cancelled in 1999.

The MNRF said the spring bear hunt is still officially a pilot project and will be re-evaluated by the province in five years.

with files from Erik White

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