December 05, 2005

Leave the Bears Alone

No, the title is not a metaphor for anything to do with the election. The title is just matter-of-fact for this post. The Star has this article, Groups want bear hunt back, and I couldn't think of anything more ridiculous then the basis of the groups' argument.

The basic argument is that Ontario needs the return of the spring bear hunt because the bear population is supposedly moving further south. This has lead to an increase in bear and people encounters. There may be some truth in this matter but I would counter that two other factors are more likely to account for this issue.

First, since the spring bear count is cancelled it is possible - likely - that the bear population has grown somewhat. Since they cannot be killed (to use a loaded word) in the numbers they once were, offspring producing bear are more likely to live longer and thus breed more. It is much like fishing. My family has a cottage on Chandos Lake in the Kawarthas. At one time, this lake was being over-fished and the fish population was dwindling. For years now, it has been a conservation lake; the fishing seasons are shorter and ice fishing is all together banned. Because of these changes, the fish population, especially for the lake trout, has bounced back quite a lot. The same idea can probably be said about the bears. Though it is not certain, it is possible.

Second, over the last few years the number of people building cottages and homes, and traveling to the areas of the Muskokas and Kawarthas - Ontario's two main cottaging areas - has grown immensely. The evidence of this is the growth of the number of residences on lakes and the cost of property in these areas. My family's own cottage that was purchased in 1997 for just over $70,000, and has had only about $10,000 put into it since, is now estimated to be almost triple that price. And it's not so much the cottage itself but the property value that has skyrocketed due to the demand for cottage property. This indicates that there is a growing number of people traveling and moving to these regions. Being that these areas are also in the southern part of bear country it is likely that the increasing number of people encountering bears is due to there being more people in the areas. It's not so much the bears are expanding their territory, it's that we as people are expanding ours.

In reality though, neither of these reasons are reason enough to allow more hunting of bears or the return of the spring bear hunt. Hunting should not be used as method of population control. If hunting is to be considered a sport of necessity, then it should be done so by those that subsidize their diets and life styles through hunting bears. Reproduction is a natural function to all living things and to fault the bears because they are only doing what they are programmed to is not a substantial argument. To take this one-step further, how do we really know if a population is healthy? How do we decide if a population is too big? As I note below, the number of encounters with people is not substantial either. Since we never really know the actual population numbers unless they are countable on our digits, then deciding a bear population is too large is not possible. It's not any different when people believed the wolf and fox populations were too large and we were allowed to hunt them. The result is now an apparent lack of these animals in the wild. What we now believe is that their demises were a result of over hunting and human expansion. We cannot allow the same to be done to the bears.

Just the same, we cannot fault the bears for the actions of people. If people are willing to move into areas, knowing that there are bears present then the responsibility lies with those people. We cannot validate bear hunting because more people choose to place themselves in that situation. This is similar to the idea of American insurance companies not providing affordable insurance to people who choose to live in tornado alley. When moving into these areas, people know that it is likely they are going to encounter a tornado at some point. You cannot blame bears for the actions of people and ignorance is not a defence.

I'll admit I don't agree with bear hunting at all. This does not mean that hunting as a whole I disagree with. However, I have to come to this belief through encounters with hunters, not bears. The most recent is with a man I got to know this past summer. He, in his younger years (he's now in his mid-70's), was an avid hunter. According to him, he was willing to hunt everything. So one day he went out on a bear hunt and he was successful. It was the last time he ever hunted bears and he also spoke against it. According to him, bear hunting wasn't a sport at all. Unlike most game, bears are generally baited rather then hunted. You essentially set the bear up in an ambush rather then trying to call it and follow it. Furthermore, the bears are generally not afraid of you. Whereas a deer, rabbit, goose, etc. are likely to run or fly away at any sign of you, a bear is more likely to get defensive. What does a bear do when it's threatened? It stands up, making itself a bigger target. Hunting bears is not the same as hunting other game.

I would hope that the Ontario government does not reinstate the spring bear hunt, not that it there's any indication they will. There does not seem, to me at least, to be a substantial argument for its return. Most modern studies of animal populations argue, as I learned while doing environmental science at York University, that natural systems are top to bottom driven. That is the systems are kept in check and function most efficiently and effectively starting with the dominant animals. In Ontario, bears are considered a dominant animal.

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Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)

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