But now the bears are back and they're becoming a nuisance.
It costs the province time and money to hire game wardens to shoot and kill nuisance bears that are threatening the human population and thus Fall and Spring bear hunts allows Ontario hunters to kill bears and keep the bear population at a manageable level.
It is normally rare for black bears to attack humans (80% of bear attacks in North America are from grizzlies), but since bears fight for territory and when the population of bears explodes they end up encroaching on towns and city suburbs more - wandering in to find food in the same manner that raccoons do.
In the past the city has made new laws and spent $35-million on alternative approaches to nuisance bears, encouraging people to avoid leaving food or garbage in places where bears can get at it, but such approaches have had no success in lowering bear attacks on humans.
Currently northern Ontario has a bear hunting season that runs from mid-August into October, but with rising bear numbers and increasing bear attacks on humans it is clear that the bear population needs to be culled.
Fatal bear attacks in Ontario have been on the rise since the 1980s due to the careful balance between human populations and fluctuating bear populations.
Since the Spring bear hunt was cancelled in 1999 the black bear population in Northern Ontario has grown so numerous that the bears are now migrating south into more populated regions - and bear attacks have risen significantly because of this.
Bringing back the Spring bear hunt will allow hunters to kill more bears preemptively - which will ultimately save the province time and money by not having to send police officers or game wardens to deal with problem bears - and it will save human lives. It was really only a matter of time before the Spring bear hunt had to be brought back to safeguard territorial bears from traveling too far south.
But saving human lives is not enough for vegetarians and animal rights groups like PETA who want all hunting abolished (which would cost the province millions by having to hire people full time to kill nuisance bears on a constant basis). PETA is promoting the abolition of hunting (not just bears, but all animals), and also eliminating the farming of livestock (cows, chickens, pigs, etc)... as such their views are considered to be very controversial since most people in North America enjoy bacon and eggs on a regular basis.
Barker says it is "barbaric" to let bear cubs starve to death after their mothers are lured from the den by bait and then killed by bear hunters. "You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize you’re murdering every cub," says Bob Barker. "I urge every Canadian who knows anything about this to step up to the plate and take a swing for the cubs."
But what Barker fails to understand is that hunting in Ontario is governed by hunting tags - which are released for males and females of the species - and stiff fines for killing the wrong type of bear. This means the government can release X amount of male bear tags and X amount of female bear tags. And while sometimes a female might be killed instead of a male (for whatever reason), it allows the ministry to more accurately control the culling of bears.
And while that is true that bear cubs will starve during the Spring bear hunt, it is also true that reducing the population of bear cubs will sharply reduce bear populations in a hurry. Thus Ontario may only need 1 or 2 years of Spring bear hunts before the bear population has reached more manageable levels.
The good news is that most hunters also eat their kills - including bears, which tastes very gamey but is very high in protein. Ethical hunters believe in always eating their kills and feel very strongly about it.
There is even a huge variety of black bear cooking videos on YouTube. Like the two videos below:
Ontario Natural Resources Minister David Orazietti has disputed Bob Barker’s claims about cubs being left to starve to death during a spring bear hunt. "I have a ton of respect for Mr. Bob Barker, but I’m not sure where he’s getting his facts on this issue, and that’s not in fact the case at all," he said.
As mentioned above, the ministry releases way more hunting tags for male bears than for females. Furthermore the new Spring bear hunt will be limited to only 8 of 95 wildlife areas this Spring in a pilot project to see if the province can curb bear populations in regions that are closest to civilization - and therefore reducing the number of emergency calls and instances where police are forced to shoot nuisance bears.
"I’m not sure if Mr. Barker is aware that eight other provinces in Canada and all territories have full province-wide or territory-wide spring bear hunts," says Orazietti. "This is a much smaller, targeted approach to deal with really what’s become a public safety issue."
Furthermore the Ontario bear hunt will be non-profit and limited to local hunters only. That means no trophy hunters coming in from the USA or overseas to hunt bears. It will be limited only to local bear hunters.
Barker called the Spring bear hunt "unethical" and "legislated cruelty" and said it doesn’t matter that Ontario is trying only a small scale pilot project. To him all hunting is wrong and unethical.
"Whether it’s an experiment or it’s going to last for 30 years, it is just totally unacceptable in today’s society," he said. "I just can’t understand how they can possibly do this."
Could it be because it is the most effective way of curbing the bear population?
That is line of thought being promoted by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, which has urged the public to make sure "big city animal rights extremists" don’t derail the pilot project for a Spring bear hunt.
"While the partial reinstatement of a hunt is a positive step, we believe that all of bear country deserves to experience the benefits of a spring hunt," says the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters in a statement.
Hunting is also a tricky activity to get into. It is usually passed from father to son (most hunters are male, despite what you might see on the Hunger Games). To become a hunter in Ontario you must first complete the Ontario Hunter Education Course plus get either your H1 (firearms) or H2 (bowhunting) Outdoors Card, plus enter a lottery to get hunting tags (of which there is a limited number and randomly distributed). As such hunting is an activity that in recent decades has been on the decline as the population shifts to a more urban society.
Last year a black bear wandered into a Northern Ontario town on Halloween, a night when small children were walking around with bags full of candy. Fortunately police responded before anyone was injured or killed.
"We’ve had over 50 resolutions from municipalities wanting to opt in to this pilot program, and that certainly speaks to the sense of urgency that communities have in northern Ontario in terms of dealing with this," says Orazietti.
"We have young kids in schools who can’t go out for recess because bears are in their playground," he said. "Teachers are wearing bear whistles to call the students back into the safety of the school."
Such unsafe conditions has parents up in arms, demanding that the province deal with the nuisance bears.
A Spring bear hunt to cull the number of bears is the logical solution.
If the number of nuisance bear reports drops dramatically in those 8 regions it will be a sign that the Spring bear hunt is working.
"I think the most important thing we need to do now is to ensure that the proposed pilot project has the desired effect, including a reduced number of 911 calls," says Orazietti.