GUESS WHO’S COMING FOR DINNER.
MNR cutbacks may affect the Bear Wise program in Muskoka.
Photo by Cody Storm Cooper
MUSKOKA-PARRY SOUND - Ontarians could be on their own a lot more this bear season when it comes to dealing with bruins coming out of the bush looking for an easy meal.
The recent Ontario budget directed the MNR to cut $50 million over the next three years
The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is reducing by more than half the number of bear technicians it employs under its Bear Wise Program, reducing staff from 48 to 21 across the province.
Communities with bear technicians, according to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, are being reduced from 25 to 15 with most of those being reduced to one technician.
In Bracebridge Cathy Hamilton, local president of the union, said two six-month seasonal positions have been axed. When asked what that will mean in terms of service to the community she said it depends on the ministry.
“It depends on how the ministry chooses to handle looking after the program from here on in — if it’s not done properly it could be bad,” she said.
The recent Ontario budget directed the MNR to cut $50 million over the next three years. The Bear Wise portion is reported to be only about $4 million.
Spokesperson for the MNR Jolanta Kowalski said the change is science-based.
“MNR will no longer trap and relocate problem bears. Trapping and relocating has always been our least effective tool to manage problem bears. Many bears (unless they are juveniles) that are relocated will simply return to the area they were removed from. MNR will continue to support police in emergency situations … will immobilize or dispatch bears, but only in exceptional circumstance and at the request of police. Public safety is paramount,” said Kowalski.
She said the ministry has evidence of many municipalities implementing effective Bear Wise strategies and public education levels are up.
“The responsibility for managing human/bear conflicts must be shared between the province, local governments and residents,” said Kowalski.
But Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said the responsibility is better placed with professionals.
“The McGuinty Liberals are way off base with claims that government can take this huge step back and make the warding off of bear attacks a personal rather than public responsibility,” said Thomas. “Bears don’t read MNR education materials or heed No Trespassing signs. Sometimes, despite people’s best efforts, bears pose a danger to humans. Cutting experts out of the mix is hardly the answer.”
People in areas without bear technicians will have to call the local police service or Ontario Provincial Police, depending on where they are.
That diverts police resources from other areas, says Ed Evens, president of the union in Sioux Lookout.
“This is an inappropriate response, since police are not trained to deal with wildlife,” Evens said. “We think the ministry changes will lead to a lot more bears being shot by homeowners and police. Right now, the bear population is stable. At this time of year, when you shoot a bear, you run the risk of killing a mother and leaving cubs on their own. Clearly, cuts to the Bear Wise program are bad for the people and not so good for the bears either.”
At the same time the ministry is closing offices across the province, but the Bracebridge office is not in danger yet.
Kowalski said there are plans to consolidate some smaller facilities, but nothing has been determined at this point.
“No decisions have been made yet regarding specific office closures,” said Kowalski.
- With files from Roland Cilliers