PARRY SOUND – Trapping bears is now a thing of the past for the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).
The province’s proposed cut the MNR’s budget by $50 this spring will include cuts to the Bear Wise program.
In the past, the ministry has hired summer program staff who would educate the public on bears and relocate problem bears.
Now, the number of Bear Wise staff for the summer is being cut to 21 in 15 communities from 48 who had been serving those same 15 communities.
Contract staff members were first hired for the six-month position two years ago for the Bear Wise program. Before that, MNR full-time staff members dealt with bear calls.
“This is a program that has resulted due to the increase in bear and human encounters, so over the years there’s been a demand for some staff to educate and provide service to provide some relocation, or the other alternative is the bears get shot,” said Parry Sound Public Service Employees Union President Marc McKernon.
Between the Parry Sound and Bracebridge sister offices the ministry has hired three temporary staff in the past for the program, but according to the Bracebridge Ontario Public Service Emoloyees Union president, that’s been cut to one for this season.
Whether Parry Sound is losing its technician isn’t yet known, said McKernon.
With the staff cuts come cuts to the in-person education of homeowners by Bear Wise program staff and the trapping and relocation of nuisance bears.
“There is a place you can call (the Bear Wise hotline), there is someone you can talk to, there just won’t be the service that’s been provided in the past to assist,” said McKernon. “MNR staff are probably the best trained to deal with situations where there are issues and there are conflicts with people and they would deal with those by doing what they need to do, whether setting traps and moving the problem bears.
“The issue now, is with attractants, and you can look at a cherry tree as an attractant. Being that MNR won’t be coming out anymore, those attractants will be the property owner’s to deal with. So maybe eliminating the cherry tree or the apple tree or whatever is bringing in this wildlife to your door step.”
Spokesperson for the MNR Jolanta Kowalski said the reason the ministry is no longer trapping bears 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.
The change seems to put more onus on the local OPP from the public for bear calls, and raises the concern bears that were once relocated could be killed instead.
“That’s exactly where it’s going,” said McKernon. “The OPP is going to be your contact for nuisance bears, to deal with issues when you want someone to come out if its an emergency of some kind…the OPP have more important things to do than deal with this sort of thing, looking after calls when the MNR, at one time, used to respond to these things.”
But, according to Parry Sound Detachment Commander Ron Campbell, it’s business as usual in 2012 and that doesn’t include deadly force as anything other than a last resort. In 2011, of 195 animal complaints to the Parry Sound OPP, 93 were about bears. As of last week, police have received two calls about bears this year. Out of those 93 calls last year, no bears were shot.
In Parry Sound last year the MNR responded to 962 bear calls, of those, staff trapped 23, and chemically immobilized two. A total of 26 dead bears were reported in the area.
Of those, 13 were the
result of road collisions, nine were killed by others to protect property or
for safety reasons, and three died of unknown causes. The MNR dispatched one
bear with severe injuries.
“A bear call is treated as an emergency when it is attempting to enter a dwelling or there is danger to the public,” said Campbell in an email. “We have a bear protocol in place and we assist the MNR with these issues as it stands. We are a 24/7 365 day a year operation. Each year we have the OPP members familiarize themselves with these types of incidents and follow the protocol we have in place. We will continue to make recommendations to the public to contact the Bear Wise hotline and make our own recommendations to the public to remove attractants and other practices that will assist in deterring bears and promote safety.”
The OPP usually receive calls about bears between May and early November.
The Bear Wise program cost the ministry an estimated $3 million last year, down from $4 million the previous year.
Cuts to the Bear Wise program are drop in the bucket of the total $50 million the MNR must cut. What the other cuts entail isn’t yet public.
“There’s more coming,” said McKernon.
Ontario’s proposed 2012-2013 budget, which passed second reading recently, drops the MNR’s expenses from $713.3 million in 2011-2012 to $687.1 million. That cut takes it nearly to the 2009-2010-budget rate of $685 million.
- with files from Rob Learn