Spring bear hunt is back across province
By Angelica Ingram
When Erin Nicholls heard that the spring bear hunt was returning to all of Ontario he was elated.
A bear guide for more than 20 years, Nicholls said the provincial announcement made on Oct. 30 was
welcome news for the area.
Last Friday, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry announced that following a two-year pilot
project, the Ontario government had decided to reinstate the spring bear hunt across all 88 wildlife
management units that currently have a fall bear hunt.
The expansion will go until 2020 and will include non-resident hunters, according to a media release
issued by the MNRF.
“Ontario is proposing an expanded spring bear hunting pilot program to gather further information to
assess concerns voiced by northern communities about human-bear conflicts, and to support
economic growth and tourism in northern Ontario,” reads the release.
A bear guide since 1992, Nicholls said the announcement is “amazing” news for areas that see
economic spin-off from hunting, such as Haliburton County.
“It brings so much money to the area, it helps so many stores, hotels, campsites. Every business
benefits from it,” he said.
The guide said the cancellation of the spring bear hunt in 1999 not only hurt him financially, but also
the local area and especially communities in northern Ontario that are dependent on the hunt.
Nicholls said the reasoning given behind the cancellation of the spring hunt by the then Conservative
provincial government was the belief the hunt was resulting in orphan bears.
However the guide says there is no substantial data to prove that and during the past number of
years the rise of nuisance bears has led to more orphan bears, as a result of poor provincial
management of the issue.
“In my years I’ve never ever had a hunter take a bear that had a cub,” he said. “What’s frustrated me
since the end of the spring bear hunt, when the population has gotten out of hand, is that there’s
more cubs orphaned now just from everyday property owners because the MNR officers can’t keep
up to the calls and the police officers can’t keep up to the calls. So people are just shooting bears in
their backyards and then finding out there’s a cub.”
The issue has led to waste and needless killing, which wasn’t the case when a spring hunt existed, said
According to the MNRF, it will still be illegal to hunt bear cubs and females with cubs.
“Anyone convicted of this offence could face a fine of up to $25,000 and up to one year imprisonment,” says the ministry.
The MNRF states that most hunters will only be allowed to hunt one bear each year. According to the
ministry the black bear population in the province totals 105,000.
Since the cancellation nuisance bears have been on the rise, according to both Nicholls and the MNR.
The two-year pilot project was first introduced in 2014 as a way to address concerns voiced in northern communities about human-bear conflicts, said a release issued by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.
The pilot project took place in eight wildlife management units, around communities such as Thunder Bay, Timmins and Sudbury, and included Ontario residents.
Other provinces throughout the country have both a spring and fall bear hunt, with the exception of Ontario and Nova Scotia.
Born and raised in the area, Nicholls has guided throughout Haliburton County as well as in other parts of the province and Quebec.
The guide said that allowing hunters to only hunt one bear per year shows proper, sustainable management on behalf of the government.
He believes shifts in the ecosystem, such as the declining moose population, can be partially attributed to the cancellation of the spring hunt.
“Bears eat calves in the spring,” he said. “You can’t tell me that from 1999 to now, with the population
the way it is, that it’s not affecting the moose as well.”
Nicholls uses bait while guiding and prefers to hunt bear in the spring, because of what the season
“It is way more popular for a couple of reasons,” he said. “There’s nothing really to hunt in the spring ...
so it allows hunters to have a nice hunt in the spring. The other reason is the bears usually have
longer, bigger, fuller hides. They’re not as fat, they’re leaner. But the big thing is they’re easier to bait in the spring, because there’s not really any food for them like there is in the fall.”
According to statistics provided by OFAH, the spring bear hunt was first introduced in Ontario in 1937.
In 1996 the hunt contributed $43 million to local economies in northern Ontario.
The news that the hunt was once again open to non-resident hunters particularly excited the guide,
who says bear hunting is big business amongst U.S. clients.
“The pilot project was just with residents,” he said. “Now you’ll find a lot more hunting going on in the
spring ... typically the big draw is U.S. Hunters, they love their bear hunting.”
Nicholls said opening up the spring hunt should give the MNRF more data to work with.
A not-for-profit conservation based organization, OFAH has been advocating for the return of the
spring bear hunt since it was cancelled.
“During the last 17 years, no one has done more to bring back the spring bear hunt than the OFAH.
The OFAH fought hard to prevent the cancellation of the spring bear hunt, taking it all the way to the
Supreme Court of Canada. At the end of a three year court battle, we were the only group left
defending the rights of black bear hunters. We never stopped believing that the spring bear hunt was
the right thing for Ontario, and we are happy that our hard work has paid off,” said OFAH executive
director Angelo Lombardo in a media release.
Nicholls would like to see the spring hunt reinstated for good, for both economic reasons and for the
health of the environment.
“I think the whole system would benefit from it. Not just for money and getting hunters, but I think it’s
going to help other animals and of course there’s the danger [aspect],” he said.