ZOOCHECK CANADA CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR JULIE WOODYER
Credits: Jack Boland/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency
NORTH BAY, Ont. - There will be a spring bear hunt in northern Ontario for the first time in 15 years starting Thursday.
Ontario Natural Resources Minister David Orazietti confirmed Tuesday evening a pilot project to reinstate the controversial spring hunt will go ahead as planned following a court ruling that struck down a challenge filed by animal rights groups.
"I am very pleased with the court's decision," said Orazietti, suggesting the ruling demonstrates an understanding of the ministry's role in managing wildlife in the province.
The status of the planned hunt, which will run until June 15 in certain areas of northern Ontario, had been up in the air pending the outcome a judicial review, which started and wrapped up Tuesday.
Two animal rights groups - Animal Alliance of Canada and Zoocheck Canada - filed for a judicial review and notice of constitutional question, suggesting the hunt is contrary to animal cruelty provisions in the Criminal Code.
Julie Woodyer, campaigns director with Zoocheck, expressed disappointment Tuesday, while vowing to continue to advocate for humane wildlife practices.
"Of course we will continue to fight in one form or another," Woodyer said.
"We will be very, very carefully looking at the monitoring program and maybe even have people out observing hunting. If a lactating female were killed that we found out about, we would go out to find the cubs."
Woodyer said there may be an opportunity to appeal the decision, but her organization was still waiting Tuesday to learn the rationale for the ruling.
The groups argued mother bears will be shot, leaving their orphaned cubs to starve or to be killed by predators.
But Orazietti noted that under the program, the hunting of bear cubs or females with cubs remains illegal.
He said a trap-and-release program proved to be ineffective and that the province has spent $34.5 million - more than any other jurisdiction - on its BearWise program.
But he said the BearWise reporting line, which provided advice about how to prevent or deal with bear problems, did not address the very real risk to public safety.
He pointed to incidents in northern Ontario, including one last summer in which a family escaped injury or worse after a bruin ventured into their home.
Orazietti said the pilot project to reinstate the hunt is part of a "careful and strategic" approach.
He said the two-year pilot involves a limited hunt in eight of 95 wildlife management units in Ontario - areas of highest incidence including Timmins, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay.
Municipal councils were given the choice to opt into the program.
Orazietti said there have been 50 resolutions of support from across northern Ontario.
The province intends to maintain a "healthy and sustainable" bear population, he said.
As part of the pilot, he said the ministry will gather data, including the level of food sources for bears, 911 calls, licences issued and bears that are harvested.
The former Tory government, under premier Mike Harris, decided to ban the hunt in 1999 following an intensive campaign by animal welfare organizations, claiming the hunt was unethical because bear cubs were orphaned too young to survive in the wild.
The issue has remained controversial ever since, with many northern residents blaming nuisance bear problems on the cancellation of the hunt.
-- With files from Jim Moodie