ONTARIO – Campers and residents in most of Ontario face greater danger with bears this year because the Ontario government has cut by more than half the number of staff trained to deal with bears that threaten people’s safety.
The recent Ontario Budget directed the Ministry of Natural Resources to cut $50 million from its budget. Changes to the Bear Wise education and response program are among the ill-advised cuts, according to Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.
“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,” says 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.”
The MNR has 21 technicians in 15 Northern Ontario communities, down from 48 in 25 communities. Ministry cuts mean they will no longer set traps, relocate bears, make on-site visits to landowners who are having conflicts with bears, or do public education for schools, day and overnight camps, and outdoor nature groups.
People in areas without bear technicians will have to call local or Ontario Provincial Police, depending on where they are. That diverts police resources from other areas, says Ed Evens, president of OPSEU Local 703 in Sioux Lookout and an elected representative for OPSEU members at MNR.
“This is an inappropriate response, since police are not trained to deal with wildlife,” Evens says. “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.”
Ed Evens 807.737.3759