HUNTSVILLE – Terrified a nuisance black bear will break through her window, 88-year-old Evelyn MacDonald feels trapped in her Ravenscliffe home.
This black bear has been a nuisance for an elderly resident who feels trapped in her home by the bear’s presence.
The bear started roaming around MacDonald’s property June 2, poking around her garage, car and house for food. Even though MacDonald had no garbage or bird feeders out, the bear lingered from mid-afternoon into the evening. She does keep a small bowl of cat food in the garage. At one point the bear climbed a 12-foot statue and was peering into the house through a second-storey window.
“You can imagine my surprise, looking out my front room window and there’s a black bear,” said MacDonald. “He is annoying. He scares the hell out of me.”
After the bear returned a few days later MacDonald’s daughter, Sabrina Kooistra, contacted Muskoka Wildlife Control and was directed to contact the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).
She was informed the MNR has terminated its trap and relocate program and that the onus is on property owners to deal with bears.
“My mom can’t run that quickly anymore,” said Kooistra. “If she’s out hanging laundry and a bear comes out of the bush, what’s she supposed to do? Will she make it inside? It worries me.”
Changes to the MNR’s Bear Wise program came into effect May 1. Last year there were 33 bear technicians across the province; this year there are 21. The MNR assures they have another 65 plus staff who are trained to deal with problem bears in an emergency.
Between 2004 and 2010 the MNR spent $5.5 million on over 600 prevention and awareness projects.
“Awareness of the program is also high and many municipalities have good strategies in place about being bear wise,” said Jolanta Kowalski, a media relations officer with the MNR. “The public is also better educated about what to do if they encounter a bear. Taking all that into account we decided the time is right to make a change to the program that emphasizes personal responsibility.”
But none of that eases Kooistra’s concerns about her mother’s safety.
“What’s happening now is she’s stuck in her home. She feels a little trapped,” said Kooistra, who describes her mom as a self-efficient and spirited woman. With the bear lurking around, however, she’s afraid to cut her grass or even tend to her chickens.
“There’s nothing I can do,” said Kooistra. “I can’t call anybody to get help. I don’t own a gun so I can’t go over there and shoot the bear myself. It makes me feel terrible that nobody’s willing to do anything.”
Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller said the MNR has a significant role to play in the management of bear numbers, through hunting permits, and dealing with bears when they become a nuisance.
“I mean what’s the landowner suppose to do when you have that situation other than staying locked in their house or shooting it,” he said. “So I think that’s where the MNR should still come in and trap the bear and move it somewhere. Otherwise the bear ends up getting needlessly killed.”
While speaking with an attendant on the Bear Reporting Line, Kooistra was told if the bear continues to be a nuisance and causes property damage they could shoot the bear. However, they would then need to contact the MNR immediately and the ministry would send staff to the residence to ensure the bear was shot in a humane way and with due cause.
“I don’t want my mom shooting a bear at her age,” said Kooistra. “That’s not a great message to be sending. We’re supposed to help the elderly.”
Kooistra bought her mother an air horn to use to try and scare off the bear. But, MacDonald has already attempted banging pots and yelling, which seem to have no effect on startling the bear.
Prior to 2011 MacDonald had not encountered bears on her property. She suspects a lack of natural food in the wild as a cause for their appearance.
“I’m a prisoner in my own house, for one little bear?” questioned MacDonald. “But they (the MNR) are not going to do anything. I thought they would come and try to scare him away.”
The family has not contacted the police about the bear so far, as Kooistra thinks it would be a waste of police time and resources.
So far this year the OPP have received one bear-related call. Generally the calls are food related where people have either left their garbage out or dog food on porches.
If it’s not a public safety issue residents are encouraged to contact the MNR, but shouldn’t hesitate to notify police if they feel concerned about their safety.
“We never say police calls are a waste of our time,” said Lynda Cranney, a provincial constable with the Huntsville detachment. “If you feel it’s a public safety issue, call us.”