Black Bear Re-Introduction

It's time government re-introduced black bear to southern Ontario!
The Black Bear Re-Introduction Campaign is Gathering Steam!

From Toronto to Thunder Bay, on t-shirts, on yard signs, on highway billboards, in newspapers, and in conversations a Black Bear Re-Introduction Campaign is gathering momentum, and attention.

As more and more people gain knowledge about the bear issue by reading up on the many important hidden facts, they agree that our government must take action.

- Black bears were eliminated from their former range in southern Ontario as recently as 1961!

- Thousands of nuisance black bears are destroyed annually, many leave orphaned clubs to starve to death needlessly

- MNR Density Map shows that the population of black bears is unfairly distributed

- MNR claims there is "plenty of room" for both the growing population of black bears and humans

- Our proposal is to simply Equally Share Ontario's Black Bears!

If you would like to be a part of this important work to save and re-locate black bears to their former ranges in southern Ontario please contact us today!

Please sign and mail our petition, you can download it AND some more information by Clicking HERE.

FoF is pleased to post this enlightening essay ... an important, perhaps valuable life-saving read for all citizens living, visiting and working in bear country today!

Black Bear Re-Introduction Proposal


The sad truth is Ontario black bears are today becoming recognized for their “nuisance value”. Excess bears in growing numbers are invading northern communities, looking for food. Some excess bears are relocated; most are eventually indiscriminately destroyed and wasted. One strike and you’re out!

Mainly because in 1999 the Harris Government ignored the principles of scientific wildlife management and sustainable use, caved in to the threats of the “Bear Alliance” (Animal Rights Groups) and cancelled a valuable Black Bear management tool, the “spring bear hunt”.

Meanwhile, approximately one fifth of Ontario (cottage/bear country) is challenged with the huge problem, what to do with the excess bears? The inaction of the current “McGuinty Government” to reinstate the spring hunt has added to this serious excess bear problem.

FoF believes Ontario black bears should once again be recognized for their “economic, trophy, and esthetic value” rather than considered a nuisance to be shot and wasted (eliminated). The social, economic and wildlife management benefits of our black bear natural resource are worth millions of dollars annually. Our tax dollars should not be wasted!

The responsibility to effectively deal with Ontario’s current huge excess bear problem falls directly on the McGuinty Government’s shoulders. Failure to act according to the scientific evidence supporting the reinstatement of the spring hunt is perhaps a bigger mistake than the initial cancellation.

“Our aim is to enhance and preserve the Cultures that surround the fur trade, to educate and inform”. Therefore FoF is proud to present the following proposal in the best interest of the Black Bears and the people of Ontario.

This Government knows better and must be held accountable!

Please take the time to read this proposal and subsequently let your MPP know exactly how you feel. Tell them to consider the overwhelming “scientific evidence” accept their responsibility and act accordingly. Exercise due diligence to deal effectively with literally thousands of excess bears annually.

To help you contact your MPP please click on this link; MPP Listing

Eldon Hawton President Friends of Fur
Murray Monk Honorary Vice President – Advisor To The President
Wayne Huber Honorary Vice President – Advisor To The President

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Additional information

For a more detailed summary of the events surrounding the spring bear hunt cancellation, with your internet access open please click on this link, (Jim Lawrence COHA article titled “How political pressure cancelled Ontario’s spring black bear hunt”) posted on IWMC World Conservation Trust Website: Click on link  to view article.

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Proposal to Equally Share Ontario’s Excess Bears

Prepared & presented in partnership by:
Murray Monk Trapper/Moose/Bear Hunter
Eldon Hawton Moose/Deer/Bear Hunter, former Trapper
“True caretakers of nature”

From September 2004

"Government “skeleton” reveals bears were “eliminated” from “former range” (519, 416, 905 area codes); “As recently as 1961, bounties were offered on black bears in Ontario…""

Our Perspective

You simply cannot stockpile wildlife, it is that simple. Make no mistake about it, Ontario's bear "population density" at least in some areas has clearly exceeded the carrying capacity of the land and it will get worse, much worse!

It takes five to six years for female bears to have cubs, so this accounts for why we have yet to see the real effects of "increased population density" due to the cancellation of the spring bear hunt in 1999. We are now just entering the period when the numbers of females bearing cubs will begin to compound upward as the years unfold.

Other than regulated hunting, road kills, rail kills, and those killed to protect livestock and humans, bears in Ontario have virtually no other natural predators. Bears sleep (hibernate) throughout the barren winter months and seem immune to the many diseases that control excess numbers of most other wildlife populations.

Overcrowded hungry bears forced to invade urban areas in search of something to eat are “symptoms of problems" due to the spring hunt cancellation. Too many bears confined to a small portion of Ontario, without an adequate year after year food supply and bears loosing their fear of man.

Conservation/hunting/trapping groups such as COHA, NOSA, OFMF, OFAH and others including municipal leaders, since 1999 have relentlessly lobbied the Ontario Government; countless meetings, presentations, petitions including “court actions” calling for the return of the “spring bear hunt” have failed to persuade the current McGuinty government to act accordingly.

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Manitoba Bear Study

Additional strong support for the return of the “spring bear hunt” is apparent and obvious following the most recent Manitoba Bear Study:

“Using reproductive data to model American black bear cub orphaning in Manitoba due to spring harvest of females”

Hank Hristienko1,3, Douglas Pastuck1,4, Ken J. Rebizant1,5,
Brian Knudsen1,6, and M. Laurene Connor2,7

Conclusions and management implications

“The spring hunting season is a valuable wildlife management tool. It can be used to reduce or maintain black bear populations at or below biological or cultural carrying capacity, thereby reducing or maintaining problem bear incidents at tolerable levels in a cost-effective manner. The spring hunt provides a hunting season when there are few other hunting opportunities, distributes hunting pressure over a greater period, gives hunters the advantage of short and sparse vegetation (which increases detectability of cubs with female bears), selects against nursing females because they are less mobile and tend to avoid areas of disturbance, supports the rural economy and the tourism industry, offers hunters the opportunity to harvest an animal when its coat is prime and the meat less fat and more palatable, reduces the number of bears before the problem bear season rather than after it (in nuisance situations, females accompanied with cubs are not exempt from management kills or from persons defending their property or personal safety), and is biologically sustainable.”

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Black Bear reduced to “nuisance value”

We (the authors) of this proposal believe that the once majestic Black Bear should not be reduced to “nuisance value”. Therefore we agree with all the evidence suggesting that the Ontario “spring bear hunt” must be reinstated.

We also agree with and support the principle of “sustainable use” of our natural resources; which provides so many important social, economic and wildlife management benefits, in terms of revenue valued in the “millions” toward the Ontario economy, revenue/income so vitally important to the livelihood of many northern Ontario people.

Despite all the scientific evidence, the intense lobbying, the legal actions and so on, it appears “unlikely” that the “spring bear hunt” will ever be reinstated.

Rather then making the right decisions, based on the scientific facts, the McGuinty Government is most likely to continue to listen and cater to the “perceived” emotional wishes of the “misguided voters”, within the 519, 416, 905 area codes.

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Bear Alliance

Misinformed by the “Bear Alliance”, (a group of like-minded “animal rights” supporters, including the Animal Alliance of Canada, the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, the World Wildlife Fund and of course the Schad Foundation). This group named themselves the “Bear Alliance”, met and planned a concerted effort to force the cancellation of the bear hunt. Later the Federation of Ontario Naturalists withdrew from the Bear Alliance when it realized the whole effort had little to do with conservation.

Due to the successful lobbying efforts of the “Bear Alliance” we (residents of “cottage/bear country) are “forced” to deal with the rapidly increasing “population density” and the subsequent on going problem of “excess black bears”, currently inhabiting and “reproducing” mainly the central portion of Ontario.

The below  “Bear Wise - Ontario Bear Density Map” shows the current distribution of Ontario bears; “The central portion of this vast area, where the highest density of black bears is found, is also Ontario's "cottage country”. So, are people sharing the great outdoors with the bears? Or are the bears sharing their home with people.”

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Plenty of room for Bears & Humans… MNR

To quote the MNR; “According to leading wildlife specialists with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, there's plenty of room for all of us. With a little effort on the part of humans, both species can `live and let live," says Mike Hall, District Biologist with MNR in Sudbury.

This map suggests that clearly the largest percentage of Ontario bears “40-60 bears/100km2”, (vast majority) are concentrated into approx one fifth of the province sharing their home with “people” from that relatively small area, the remainder of the province shares the balance, density ranging from “20-40 to <20 bears/100km2” and most of southwestern Ontario has “0 bears/100km2”.

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Unfair distribution of bears

The MNR “density map” suggests that the distribution of bears is clearly unfair in terms of, numbers of “bears sharing their home with people”. This begs the question, why should "cottage country” be the main area to house the majority of Ontario’s Bears?

We believe the “population density” of bears should be equally shared with other people living in Ontario and according to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, “there's plenty of room for all of us”. The McGuinty Government should then seriously consider the following plan to assist the current “natural migration” of bears moving south, “returning” to their historical “former range”. Thus allowing more Ontarians to “equally share Ontario’s excess bears”.

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The Plan:

At one time in history bears inhabited most of North America including those areas covered by 519, 416, 905 area codes. The “MNR- Bear Wise Density Map” shows that few, if any bears inhabit this area of Ontario today.

Why is this and how did it happen? Ironically the people from that area used indiscriminate trapping, shooting, and poisoning and had the black bears eliminated from that area.

Yet before we start “blamming” the hunter/trapper, according to the history books, it seems they (hunters/trappers) were encouraged, even paid by the Government, for “as recently as 1961, bounties were offered on black bears in Ontario”.

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Government skeleton revealed

The supporting evidence can be found within the pages of MNR’s own history book, coproduced by OMNR & OTA in the late 80’s, released in 1987, titled: “WILD FURBEARER MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA • SECTION IV: SPECIES BIOLOGY,MANAGEMENT, AND CONSERVATION page #443” Chapter 35, BLACK BEAR by; GEORGE B. KOLENOSKY, STEWART M. STRATHEARN


“At one time black bears ranged throughout most of the North American continent with the exception of the treeless barrens of northern Canada and the desert regions of the southwestern United States (Seton 1929). At present in Canada the species occupies about 85% of its historical range. It has been “eliminated” from the more southerly regions of all the provinces and does not occur on Prince Edward Island. It does not occur in the tundra regions of the North, although transients occasionally have been sighted on the barren lands.”

The book goes on to say:


“Since the advent of European settlement in North America, interactions between humans and bears have been dominated by conflict, which has resulted in systematic attempts to eliminate bears and their habitat. In many instances the mere presence of bears has been regarded as a problem to be dealt with through indiscriminate trapping, shooting, and poisoning. This inevitably resulted in the “extirpation” of the species from large parts of its “former range”, particularly the more populated regions of the United States and southern Canada. Recognition of the economic, trophy, and esthetic value of black bears has been slow, especially in areas with sizable bear populations. As recently as 1961, bounties were offered on black bears in Ontario, which has a large population of bears.”

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Bear migration to former range

Recently due to the overcrowded “carrying capacity” of “bear/cottage country”, bears are forced to return to their “former range”. Growing evidence that this is indeed “happening” is reported in recent news stories. The following are a couple of examples.


What's that animal outside? A bear? Oh deer! This article appeared in The Toronto Sun on August10, 2004.

Author: Connie Woodcock
Source: Toronto Sun

“Bears seem to be everywhere in Ontario this summer -- as northern resident Shirley Brennan noted in this space yesterday. There have been bears in Barrie; bears near London; bears near Peterborough and one, amazingly, in Flamborough. That one somehow crossed the 401, a ministry spokesman said.”


This article appeared in The Kitchener-Waterloo Record on July 31, 2004
Nuisance bears are moving south

Author: Bill Thompson
Source: Kitchener-Waterloo Record

“If you think black bears were a nuisance before, you ain't seen nothing yet.

In fact, since my June 26 column on the increase in nuisance bear calls in Ontario, things have gotten worse. And I'm not just talking about the traditional black bear haunts of Northern Ontario.

Case in point: on July 3 and 5, the Guelph Mercury and The Record ran stories about black bear sightings in the Guelph, Hamilton and Dundas areas. And a bear was shot at the edge of Hamilton in July.

That's not all. The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ontario Provincial Police have reported bear sightings in Erin, Limestone, Flamborough, Georgetown and even south of London. And I have heard reports of bear sightings in Kitchener and Waterloo.

While most people think that sightings in such non-traditional bear territory are nothing short of amazing, they better get used to it. It's going to get worse because, in short, as the bear population increases, more bears are moving south for food.

Before 1999, bear-hunting operators baited areas in the spring and studies undertaken by Sudbury's Laurentian University showed what hunters had been saying for years -- that the vast majority of bears that came to these areas were males.

When the hunts were cancelled, so was the baiting. With hundreds of thousands of pounds of food taken out of the food chain, the big males enforced the pecking order and pushed juvenile males, females and cubs out of the top feeding areas. They went south to dumps and other areas with food.”

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Landfill Bear Feeding-Stations

Currently many of the excess bears in “bear/cottage country” depend on “landfill sites” (feeding stations) for food. The following pictures show bears feeding in landfill sites located near Biscotasing and Westree Ontario just north of Sudbury. This day the Biscotasing landfill had seventeen (17) bears and the Westree site was feeding six (6).

Biscotasing landfill site

Westree Landfill site

Details of Plan:

Rather than fence off these “feeding stations” as suggested in MNR “Bear Wise” program, thus forcing bears to look elsewhere for something to eat (including urban areas). We suggest that these northern landfill sites would provide an excellent opportunity (location) to catch bears for the “relocation program.”
Bears caught from these sites could then be transported (relocated) into landfill sites (feeding stations) located in the areas currently with the least “bear population density”, southern Ontario (519, 416, 905, area codes).

We suggest that the “wasted food” from restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes and households dumped (by the many tons) in landfill sites from this vast urban population, will provide an adequate on-going food supply for the relocated bears. Therefore, “relocated bears” would have very little reason to leave these “feeding stations” and would most likely be content to live around these “landfill sites” from early spring right through to hibernation.

Residents in close proximity to these landfill sites (bear feeding stations) should have little to fear; simply do as we are told here in “cottage/bear country” and adhere to the four corner stones of the McGuinty Government’s “Bear Wise” program, quote, “The Bear Wise program is based on four cornerstones - reporting, response, prevention, and education and awareness”.

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Needed Government Action

We suggest that the McGuinty Government should immediately add/implementing this component to their existing comprehensive “Bear Wise” program.

Use the $900,000 currently in the budget for such things as “landfill fencing”, toward developing and implementing a cost effective “bear relocation element” as part of MNR’s existing bear wise initiative dealing with the problem of excess “bear/cottage country” bears.

Due to the problems these excess bears have caused and the increase in nuisance bear calls/situations over the past five years. We now have a large number of groups/individuals “Bear Relocation Experts” who can assist with this “bear relocation element” and subsequently will ensure the cost effectiveness of this important, urgent and badly needed project.

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Needed Public Support

In spite of all the ever increasing “excess bear” problems people in “cottage/bear country” are currently forced to tolerate, combined with the on-going struggle (over the past five years) to “share habitat” with bears.

In all the suggestions, proposals, presentations and court actions, (“contrary to the legacy” of people from 519, 416, 905 area codes), to our knowledge never was there ever any mention that the “excess bear problems” should be dealt with by “elimination, through indiscriminate trapping, shooting, and poisoning”, no “bounty” was ever suggested nor contemplated.

Rather, advocates are simply asking that their traditional, cost-effective, economically-beneficial, “wildlife management tool” the “spring bear hunt” be returned to the benefit of everyone. Restoring long overdue “recognition of the economic, trophy, and esthetic value of black bears”.

We know this plan will make a “lot of sense” to a lot of people including the general public, northern municipalities and conservation minded groups and individuals.

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Expect Bear Alliance to support (“bear relocation element”)

We also anticipate that “Animal Rights Groups” including the Animal Alliance of Canada, the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, the World Wildlife Fund and, of course the Schad Foundation the “group” known as “the Bear Alliance” should welcome this addition (“bear relocation element”) to their favored “BearWise” program and will know doubt champion the idea of getting some of their beloved bears much closer to home.

For example Barry Kent MacKay (animal rights activist) was recently quoted in this North Bay Nugget news story published July 8th 2004. The Nugget reports that; “Last month, the Ontario government announced it would spend $900,000 on the Bear Wise program to support community based bear prevention and public education campaigns. Such as buying bear-resistant garbage containers and landfill fencing.

Such programs have been extremely effective in helping residents deal with bear problems, said Barry Kent MacKay, director of the Animal Alliance of Canada in Toronto.”


Relocation element good second choice

As an “alternative” to the McGuiny Government doing the right thing and reinstating the “spring bear hunt”. Many people/groups will know doubt see this proposal as an excellent “second choice” and will want to express their support to have this new “relocation element” added to the MNR “Bear Wise” plan.
Help us convince the McGuinty Government to do the right thing to properly address this huge problem. Your opinion will only count if you take the time to tell our elected MPP’s exactly what you think.


Please help support our “Proposal To Equally Share Ontario’s Excess Bears”.

MPP quick contact list

Please use this link, find your MPP, Minister Ramsey, Dalton McGuinty and any other MPP you wish, send a letter, fax, or email expressing your support. Link to MPP’s here.

Current Government (OMNR) Perspective:

Ontario’s Current Bear Situation Per MNR Bear Wise website:

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March 30, 2004

TORONTO — The McGuinty government has established a toll-free hotline as part of a new Bear Wise strategy to help manage nuisance black bears and make communities safer, Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay announced today, delivering on a promise he made in December.

"People can call toll free 1-866-514-BEAR (2327) 24 hours a day, seven days a week to report nuisance bear problems," said Ramsay. "This is real positive change that will go a long way toward easing the minds of people living in bear country and make our communities safer."

The new phone line will handle nuisance bear situations. In emergencies, the public should call 911 or police for assistance.

"The best defense against nuisance bears is education and prevention," said Ramsay. "Simple actions such as bear-proofing your garbage, not leaving pet food outside and cleaning outdoor grills can make a big difference in minimizing nuisance bear activities."

The Bear Wise strategy is based on four cornerstones - reporting, response, prevention, and education and awareness - as the best way to reduce nuisance bear activity.

Ministry staff have also met with more than 200 communities across Ontario and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police to discuss ways of working together to prevent nuisance bear problems.
"We all have a role to play in reducing human-bear conflicts," said Ramsay. "By increasing awareness of how to avoid unintentionally feeding bears, we will drastically reduce nuisance bear activity which will improve the quality of life of everyone living in bear country."

Fact Sheet: Bear Management Strategy

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April 26, 2004

Agreement Supported by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police

SAULT STE. MARIE — The Ontario government is making communities in bear country safer and stronger through a new protocol with the Ontario Provincial Police about responding to bear problems, Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay announced today.

"I'm very pleased we've reached this agreement clarifying that police will respond to bear problems that pose an immediate public safety threat," said Ramsay. "This will help the public know who to call when dealing with bear problems, and should help ease the minds of people living in bear country."

The protocol signed today clarifies roles and responsibilities around responding to human-bear problems. Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) will respond to emergency bear calls and will call the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) for assistance if necessary. MNR will respond to non-emergency bear calls. The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP), which represents municipal police agencies and the OPP, supports the protocol and will encourage member forces to use it as a template to reach agreements with municipal forces.

"This is an important community safety issue for many of the communities we serve, particularly in Northern Ontario," said OACP President Chief Ean Algar. "We are pleased that by working with the Ontario government, we have been able to put in place a process that will ensure the safety of Ontarians when dealing with a nuisance bear."

"The new protocol will help the OPP improve upon the safety of people who are placed in danger by bears," said OPP Deputy Commissioner Maurice Pilon. "Every bear incident is different and by providing a coordinated approach to assessing each situation and potential response, we can also act in the best interests of our human and bear population."

Today's announcement is the next step in the province's Bear Wise program. The key elements of Bear Wise are reporting, response, prevention, and education and awareness. People can call 1-866-514-BEAR (2327) toll-free 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the bear season with non-emergency bear problems.

"By strengthening the communities in which we live, we are providing people with a quality of life that is second to none," said Ramsay.

Fact sheet: Province Signs Protocol with Police on Response to Human-Bear Conflicts

IN AN IMMEDIATE EMERGENCY: contact your local police force or dial 911
TO REPORT BEAR PROBLEMS: contact the Bear Reporting Line at
1-866-514-BEAR (2327) (TTY) 705 945-7641


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June 14, 2004


$900,000 for community-based bear programs
NORTH BAY — A new Bear Wise funding program to support community-based bear prevention, awareness and public education programs will increase public safety in bear country, Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay announced today.

"We will work with communities to identify trouble spots for conflicts between humans and bears and implement prevention measures to reduce those conflicts," said Ramsay. "We are providing $900,000 to support initiatives that will help make communities in bear country safer, such as bear-resistant garbage containers or landfill fencing."

Communities that undergo an approved bear hazard assessment and develop an action plan are eligible to receive funds through the Bear Wise program. The bear hazard assessment involves the community and the local Ministry of Natural Resources office working together to identify areas at high risk for human-bear conflicts and then developing a plan to prevent problems. Interested communities must apply by July 16, 2004, for funding for this year.

"I'm very pleased the ministry is providing funding for community-based prevention efforts," said North Bay Mayor Victor Fedeli, as he accepted a funding application from the minister. "This will help communities like ours manage, or better yet, prevent bear problems, and that's good for all of us living here."

The minister also announced that the North Bay Police Service is about to become the second force to sign an agreement with the ministry under the Bear Wise program. North Bay police will respond to emergency bear calls and will call the Ministry of Natural Resources for assistance if necessary. The ministry will respond to non-emergency bear calls.

The Bear Wise program is based on four cornerstones - reporting, response, prevention, and education and awareness.

People who have bear problems or want more information on bears, can call the Bear Wise phone line 1-866-514-2327 toll-free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week during bear season. They can also visit the Bear Wise website at  for education and awareness information.
For emergency bear situations, the public is asked to call 911 or local police.

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“Bear Wise - Bear Biology”
Up close and personal with Ontario's black bears.
Bear biologists and wildlife experts share some fascinating facts.

“Sharing the great outdoors”
We humans share the province of Ontario with more than 75,000 black bears. Most live in the geographic expanse stretching from Ottawa in the southeast through to Kenora in the northwest. The central portion of this vast area, where the highest density of black bears is found, is also Ontario's "cottage country." So, are people sharing the great outdoors with the bears? Or are the bears sharing their home with people. According to leading wildlife specialists with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, there's plenty of room for all of us. "With a little effort on the part of humans, both species can `live and let live,'" says Mike Hall, District Biologist with MNR in Sudbury.

Understanding black bears starts with studying their life cycles, food sources and reproduction patterns, and determining the environmental factors that motivate them to roam - sometimes hundreds of kilometers - in search for food. No one works harder to find these answers than the MNR specialists who get up close and personal with these fascinating and intelligent animals.

Dr. Martyn Obbard is a research scientist with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and is recognized as an expert on black bears. Dr. Obbard and his fellow biologists have amassed a wealth of information about black bears. Their combined knowledge is being used to clear up misconceptions and promote collaboration between residents and communities. As leading bear experts, they hope that greater awareness will lead to increased respect for bears and their value in our ecosystem, and motivate us to take the steps necessary to reduce human-bear conflicts. "Treating wildlife with respect and doing our part to reduce conflicts is all part of being ecologically responsible," says Dr. Obbard.

“A bit of bear biology”

Many people don't realize just how big black bears are. A mature adult male can measure up to 190 cm (6 ft) in length, and weigh anywhere from 120 to 300 kg (250 to 650 lbs). Females can weigh up to 180 kg (400 lbs).

While we tend to think of bears as herbivores, eating berries, nuts, roots, shoots and leaves, black bears are actually omnivores that will eat just about anything, including carrion and smaller animals. Black bears are opportunistic, which means they will do what they have to and go where they must, to find food. In what biologists call "a good food year," when generous rainfall and cool weather lead to lush berry crops, bears live on what nature provides. In early spring, on emerging from hibernation, they eat willow catkins, grasses, dandelions and aspen leaves. When they can, they augment this diet with protein sources such as fish, winter-killed animals and sometimes newborn fawns or moose calves. In summer, they eat raspberries, blueberries, chokecherries and various currants and tree berries as they become available, looking to ant colonies and bee and wasp nests for sources of protein. In fall, they favour hazelnuts, mountain ash berries, acorns and beechnuts. Bears will feed for 20 hours a day, consuming enormous quantities of food, driven by a biological imperative to put on as much weight as possible in preparation for the coming winter hibernation.

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Bear Wise - Farmer's role in keeping bears at bay
Can farmers and bears coexist in peace?
Yes - with planning and effort.

Farmland and bear country: frequently one and the same.

Ontario's Ministry of Agriculture and Food census shows that in the year 2000 there were almost 60,000 working farms in Ontario, with some 85,000 Ontario residents earning their living by farming. To say that farming is a vital contributor to Ontario's economy would be a huge understatement. Ontario farms supply a vast market for beef and dairy products, hogs, chickens, fruits, vegetables and grains. A farmer's life, while challenging at the best of times, can be made especially difficult when the farm is situated in "bear country." Thousands of Ontario farms are located in regions of central, northern and northwestern Ontario where the forests support populations of black bears. These forests and wooded areas often border, and sometimes surround, farmland. The farms are part of bear country, and the bears are part of farm country. This is why farmer-bear conflicts can frequently occur.

Fattening up: a bear's prime directive

Bears' natural life cycle is to start looking for food as soon as they emerge from hibernation in the spring and eat as much as possible during summer and into early fall. Bears will forage and eat for 20 hours a day, consuming enormous quantities of food, some managing to double their body weight by the end of the season. This is especially important for females, who need that stored reserve of energy to produce and feed cubs throughout a long winter in the den.

In what bear biologists call "a good food year," black bears live on the foods they find naturally in their forest environment - young green shoots and aspen leaves in the spring, plentiful berry crops in summer and a variety of nuts in the fall. But in years of drought, when berry crops dry up, or when a late spring frost has killed the fledgling berry flowers, the bears have to roam farther for food, using their highly developed sense of smell as a sort of homing device. The aroma of corn or ripening grain in a farmer's field, fallen fruit in an orchard or vegetables in a garden - or the scent of livestock, animal food or even a bird feeder, can bring them to the property looking for a meal. Beehives are a particular attraction, and being omnivores, bears have been known to take newborn calves. And once they get a taste of what's available on a farm, they will remember, and return.

For the farmer, this can mean the loss of expensive livestock, grain crops, produce and valuable feed. For the bear, it can mean the loss of life. Because in defense of property and income, the farmer may see no alternative but to shoot the offending bear.

Damage control: preventing problems before they start

The Ontario Government, through the Ministry of Natural Resources, has mounted a program called Bear Wise, intended to provide all Ontario residents, including farmers, with information about black bears and the steps we can all take to reduce the number of human-bear encounters. Some of the steps are simple: Picking ripe fruit off trees and vegetables from the ground, for example, not leaving pet food or livestock supplements outdoors and waiting until winter to put up bird feeders. But for farmers in particular, some steps involve more planning and effort.

"There are things farmers can do to protect their property," says Bill Darby, who works for Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources, and is a farmer himself. As District Manager in Fort Frances and a former biologist, Darby farms and works in a part of the province where he says, "Interface between bears and farmers is at or near the maximum you would see anywhere."

One of the steps Darby suggests is that if at all possible, grain or cornfields should be planted as far away from the edge of the forest as possible. "Bears like to follow the forest edge," he says. "So any crop that's adjacent to the forest is vulnerable, because the bears will venture out, knowing there's a forest right behind them to retreat to." Leaving a swath of open land or pasture between the crop and the forest edge will deter bears foraging because bears are more likely to stay in the cover of the woods and follow the edge looking for something closer.

If farmers don't have that flexibility, Darby's other suggestion is electric fencing. It has been shown that electric fencing placed between the crop and the adjacent woods can be effective at deterring bears, especially if a scent lure is placed at intervals on the wire. Electric fencing is also wise protection for beehives and orchards. Other MNR biologists concur, stating that the investment in electric fencing is definitely worthwhile when measured against the longer-term costs of losing calves, crops or produce to a foraging bear. Farmers who would like more information on electric fencing are encouraged to contact their local MNR office, where details are available on fencing type, lengths and installation procedures.
Darby, and other senior MNR biologists agree that farmer-bear coexistence is all about preventing damage well before it occurs. It's also about being aware of what is and isn't a "bear problem." For example, a bear sauntering through the back of a farmer's property isn't a problem. It's only when that bear is attracted by something on the farm it thinks it can eat, and is rewarded with a full belly, that it becomes a problem. Through the steps the ministry suggests in its Bear Wise information program, perhaps more bears can be kept away…and kept alive.

Farmers or other residents who want more information or need help managing a bear conflict can call 1-866-514-BEAR, visit a special website,  , or contact their local MNR district office.

"We have the choice," says Darby. "As farmers, we can view bears as `varmints' or as a precious tourism resource. Our behaviour determines what value we place on bears. It seems wiser, for farmers, and for society in general, to achieve the most out of all of our natural resources. With a little planning and effort, we can improve the chances that bears and humans can coexist."

Bears' entire lives are spent in a repeated cycle: Eat … fatten up…hibernate…emerge. Both sexes know they need to gain as much weight as possible during the period from mid-April to late fall. But for the female, weight gain is especially important, or she won't reproduce. The female may mate successfully, but due to some amazing evolutionary foresight, her fertilized eggs won't implant to form cubs until her body reaches a certain weight - at least 70 kg.

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“Bear Wise - Ontario Bear Density Map”

The above “Bear Wise - Ontario Bear Density Map” shows the current distribution of Ontario bears; “The central portion of this vast area, where the highest density of black bears is found, is also Ontario's "cottage country. So, are people sharing the great outdoors with the bears? Or are the bears sharing their home with people.”

Authors NOTE: “A portion of the 519 area code density ranges from 20-40 bears/100 km2 to 0 bears, while the 416, 905 area codes show 0 bears.

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