From Queen’s Park – Cuts to Bear Wise leaves public vulnerable

Sarah Campbell-MPPKENORA – Leaders Ledger – A couple of weeks ago the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) quietly announced serious cuts to the Bear Wise program, including the cancellation of the trapping and relocation component that deals with nuisance bears.

At the time of the announcement, the Ministry suggested that the program was ineffective in dealing with wayward bears and assured the public that police agencies across the province would be ready, willing and able to handle calls from the public regarding bear conflicts.

Immediately following these statements from the MNR, police agencies across the province refuted that claim, stating in the media that the Ministry was still responsible for nuisance bear control. And really, blame shouldn’t be leveled at the police, who are too busy and not trained to deal with aggressive bears.

The Minister’s failure to work out the details before the relocation program was cut has resulted in unnecessary injuries and threats to human life.

Over the Victoria Day weekend, numerous residents of Sioux Lookout say they called both the Bear Wise hotline and the Ontario Provincial Police with concerns regarding bears in and around residential areas.

For more than 24 hours residents say they called both the MNR’s Bear Wise Hotline and the police, with both agencies telling residents to call the other with their concerns. In the end, nobody was dispatched and a resident of Winnipeg was mauled by one of the bears in question, leading one to wonder exactly why this was allowed to happen?

What is clear is both agencies had ample time to respond to the incident and have it end without incident, yet neither did—leaving the public to wonder if a new protocol for potential human/bear conflicts had really been developed, or if the MNR simply walked away from its responsibilities hoping someone else would step in.

Either way, it is clear that the trapping/relocation program needs to be reinstated by the MNR—at the very least until such a time as a clear strategy to handle these distress calls is developed and implemented. I have written Natural Resources Minister Michael Gravelle and expressed this very clearly.

What this strategy should entail needs to be thoroughly examined and considered, and I think it is both irresponsible and inappropriate for the minister to dismiss some proposals, such as reinstating the Spring Bear Hunt, without giving them a full examination and consideration.

All options need to be put on the table to ensure that public safety is not compromised in favour of cutting a few dollars from the budget. Only then can the public be confident that they can be safe in their homes, camps and cottages.

Sarah Campbell MPP
Kenora