Bear hunt business blindsided by last-minute restrictions

Northern Ontario outfitters say last-minute restrictions to the spring bear hunt are forcing them to turn away American tourists.

Season opens May 2 across the northern Ontario, and will include American tourists for first time since 1999

Bear hunting season opens this Sunday. And for the first time since the controversial cancelling of the spring bear hunt in 1999, it will be all across northern Ontario — and will be open to hunters from outside the province. (CBC file photo)
Featured VideoTourist lodge operators across the north are growling over new restrictions on the number of American bear hunts allowed this spring. They're upset about the restrictions and the short notice. We heard from a lodge owner and an MNRF spokesperson.

Northern Ontario outfitters say last-minute restrictions to the spring bear hunt are forcing them to turn away American tourists. 

The season opens this Sunday — all across the north and including out of province hunters for the first time since 1999.

But many lodges said they were told — just two weeks before the opening of the season — how many out-of-province hunters they can welcome.

One lodge owner told CBC News he had eight American hunters booked, but was told by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry he could only welcome one.

Urs Brunner, the owner of Auld Reekie Lodge near Gowganda, Ont. was recently told he can only have 16 hunters from outside the province this year, the same number he normally has just for the fall hunt.

"If I had known we were going to get quotas, I would have lobbied against the spring bear hunt. Absolutely," he said.

"There's no rhyme or reason to have a spring bear hunt if you can't market it to your American guests."

'Just a bunch of rednecks'

Brunner said the MNRF seems to be assuming that outfitters are not concerned about conservation or the long-term health of the black bear population.

"We're getting treated like were just a bunch of rednecks out there who have no idea what the heck we're doing. It's quite literally belittling and disgusting the way we're getting treated," he said. 

Bruce Wilkins had 27 bear hunters booked to come to his Golden Eagle Camp near Matachewan, Ont. this year, but was told that he could only have 16.

"What are we supposed to call these people and return the deposits and tell them they can't come and hunt when we've never been told that before?" he said.

Wilkins said he and other outfitters were allowed to bring in anyone they had previously booked, but he is still steamed about a decision he feels is based more on politics than biology.

"There's no science behind what's happening. And that to us is an insult," he said.

Bear population concerns

MNR spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski said the ministry wants to make sure the bear population isn't hit too hard by extra hunting.

"While we now have two seasons for hunting the bears, the number of bears available hasn't changed," she said.

Kowalski said the ministry calculated each lodge's allotment based on the number of bears hunted in recent years.

In 2014, 18,316 Ontario residents hunted black bears, while there were an estimated 4,557 tourist hunters from outside the province, she said.

Outfitters did get late notice because the legislation for the new hunt — which starts Sunday — was just passed, Kowalski added. But the ministry plans to take a hard look at the numbers from this year's hunt in July and then give outfitters plenty of notice ahead of the 2017 bear hunting season so they can properly market it to American tourists.