Thunder Bay

Ontario Spring Bear Hunt is back in 2021

Ontario will see the full return of the spring bear hunt starting next year. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry made the announcement on Friday March 13, 2020.

Decision by Ontario government follows pilot project from 2014

The return of the full spring bear hunt in Ontario comes nearly 20 years after it was suddenly banned in 1999. At the time, the move was greeted warmly by wildlife activists, who felt the hunt was not ethical.  (Becky Bohrer/The Associated Press)

The province of Ontario has decided to bring back a full spring bear hunt in 2021.

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry made the announcement on Friday, March 13.

This decision follows a pilot project, which began in 2014, that re-introduced limited spring black bear hunting opportunities to the province. The spring black bear hunting season pilot has continued each year since 2014.

The return of the full spring bear hunt in Ontario comes nearly 20 years after it was suddenly banned in 1999. At the time, the move was greeted warmly by wildlife activists, who felt the hunt was not ethical. 

At the same time, the move was also seen as a blow to northern Ontario, where the spring bear hunt was a large part of the rural economy.

The cancellation of the hunt became a controversial issue for the Conservative provincial government, lead at the time by premier Mike Harris.

Keith Munro, wildlife biologist with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, said the decision to return the spring bear hunt will be embraced by Ontario's hunting community.

"I think we can definitely look and see that bear hunting and its importance in Ontario has changed a lot." he said. "We actually have a higher participation among residents in bear hunting now than we did at the time of the cancellation. No one's really done a study to look at why that's happened but we've definitely been talking about bear hunting a lot since 1999 and I can't help but think that that's probably what's driven a lot of the interest in it."

Munro added that when the spring beat hunt was cancelled in 1999, it was not for biological reasons.

Keith Munro, wildlife biologist with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. (OFAH)

"So back at that time we had both spring and fall hunts," Munro said. "However there was a narrative that hunters were out there shooting females with cubs and causing those cubs to become orphans. That narrative got a lot of traction, despite there being no supporting evidence... and in fact the lead black bear scientists from Ontario put out a statement saying that the orphaning of black bear cubs by hunters was extremely rare. So what we had was a mostly driven sort of political decision that really went against the evidence at the time."

However, opposition to the spring bear hunt remains active in Ontario.

Groups like the Animal Alliance and Ontario Nature have called out the government for considering a return of the hunt.

On its website, Ontario Nature said "In its dogged determination to rip apart progressive environmental law and policy, the Government of Ontario is now undoing the 1999 decision to cancel the spring bear hunt. The current proposal is to reinstate the spring hunt across Ontario..."

The group also stated that "Despite the threat of large fines, regulations prohibiting the killing of females accompanied by cubs are unenforceable."

In its decision about the spring bear hunt, posted online, the Ontario government said they received a mixed response to the proposal overall as well as a mixed response to each specific change. The statement said, the majority of the comments were supportive of making the spring season a regular annual hunt, citing the spring season providing sustainable hunting opportunities and being vital to northern and central Ontario economies.

The government also said some comments expressed concerns with hunting in general as well as concerns for bear populations.

As part of its decision to move forward with the spring bear hunt, the province will also make changes to eliminate special hunting opportunities for non-resident landowners and non-residents hunting with an immediate relative.

It will also require persons providing hunting services to residents within a bear management area to require a licence to provide bear hunting services.

There are also some changes to bear hunt reporting, which will require a single report from resident hunters, whether they hunt in the spring or the fall.

Hunters will still be required to provide details around their hunt and if a bear is harvested.

A report continues to be required even if a hunter purchased a bear licence but did not participate in the hunt or harvest an animal.

There have been no changes to the reporting requirements for non-resident hunters.

All these changes will come into effect on January 1, 2021.