Friday, 29 August 2014

Farmageddon: New Book on Factory Farming

The True Cost of Cheap Meat

By Barry Kent MacKay
Director, Animal Alliance of Canada
Senior Program Associate, Born Free USA's Canadian Representative

Because it was a friend who asked me to review this book, written by Philip Lymbery, “with Isabel Oakeshott” and published this year by Bloomsbury, I agreed.  Philip Lymbery is the CEO of Compassion for World Farming, which funded the enormous effort that went into this book, and a companion film.  He is also a fellow birder, and I love the little avifaunal asides to his descriptions of his travels.

My concern was that I’d be enduring yet another polemic filled with ghastly descriptions of abused factory farm animals along with self-righteous indignation against the 99 plus percent of the population who are not vegan.  Although I happen to be vegan, I quite understand that campaigns to stop meat and dairy consumption is a lengthy battle for the hearts and minds of often good and decent people who do not yet understand the negative impacts on health, the environment and on the animals, themselves, that derives from meat and dairy consumption.  And no matter how compelling the arguments or how much it may in some ultimate way be in their immediate or long-term self-interest not everyone has access to viable alternatives. I, too, was once a meat and dairy consuming omnivore, and that is what we all evolved to be over millions of years of natural selection.

Lymbery does not challenge moderate meat and dairy eating of products from animals free-ranged on smaller family, organic and mixed-products farms, but takes on factory farming with its overdependence on chemicals and antibiotics, its horrid treatment of animals, its gross inefficiencies in turning plant nutriment into meat and dairy products, its production of vast amounts of effluent and subsequent negative effects on the environment and wildlife, its destruction of employment opportunities and family farming, its degradation of food quality, its potential to spread disease among consumers and wildlife, its destruction of natural living resources in order to fuel its own needs and the misrepresentation it promotes in order to convince “traditional” producers to invest in it, too often to their a ruination that ends in poverty and suicides.

Factory farming is an ugly business that is here documented by a series of “case histories” as Limbery takes us with him on visits to a wide range of places around the globe.  He looks at a variety of issues beyond which even most dedicated animal protection activists are likely to consider.  I found his description of a Peruvian fishery that draws a huge biomass from the sea to be shipped to distant fish-farms riveting and educational, fascinating, and totally the practice described destructively shameful.

Factory farming is a heavy topic softened in this large volume by Limbery’s anecdotal writing-style.   He likes people, and he is mostly focused at the production part of the world’s factory farming industry, understanding that many have no choice.  He is non-judgemental, preferring to allow both facts and his observations to speak for themselves.   These features combine to make compelling what would otherwise be the depressingly heavy reading I feared I would be enduring when I received my review copy.  His non-judgemental style will help readers who consume meat, or produce it, to learn about the powerfully negative aspects of factory farming without feeling persecuted.  Many will, I am sure, thereby allow themselves to consider more rational, logical choices in their own self-interests, and in the interest of the planet’s ability to sustain our species.

Additional to farming practice reforms and better distribution leading to less waste, the author advocates simply eating less meat.  I know, of course, that whatever reception it receives among the general public and influential people who are its most intended readership, within the animal protection movement this book is likely to receive criticism for not taking the obvious next step and promoting at least vegetarian, if not outright vegan, consumption, where possible. There is a nod toward cultured meat, a product devoid of any animal suffering.  But that is effectively still in the future and likely to of limited supply for a long time to come.  I don’t think the words “vegan” or “vegetarian” or their derivatives are mentioned anywhere, nor are they in the index.   And so from the perspective of those of us who are vegan it seems he wants to make things somewhat better as opposed to quite a lot better, giving up without a struggle to the statistical enormity of the challenge.

I am not sure that all Lymbery’s proposed solutions, including his heavy emphasis on eliminating appalling food wastage, are any more realistic than a world that is mostly vegan, although some are, and he is rightly proud of playing a lead role in getting at least in some jurisdictions to eliminate some of the most egregious abuses of farmed animals, such as veal crates and pig gestation stalls.

But even if we could feed twice the number of people on the planet by implementing all Lymberly’s plans, the number of humans will still grow.   So long as it does grow we face the dilemma inherent to the physical reality that a finite amount of required resource cannot forever supply an infinitely growing demand.  At some point there will be a reckoning and even the best of effort can only delay that day.

All that said, this is still a book to be highly recommended, and in fact, the most dedicated vegan activist will find within its pages a great deal of hard information and facts and examples of great value in any campaign to protect meat and dairy-producing animals, whether via reform or abolition.  It is also a book to be read by that vast majority who cannot conceive of forgoing their cooked carrion, and by the media, politicians and other influential individuals who are now asleep on the Titanic as the iceberg comes ever closer.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

They Want to Kill Bears Because They Just Don't Understand

What Can You Do?

By Barry Kent MacKay

(The following is modified from an original blog post by Born Free USA published 07/22/14)

Just when we thought they have ended, we received yet another e-mail from a detractor critical of our failed efforts last spring to prevent an ill-conceived partial re-opening of the spring bear hunt.  It read: "fyi- even though this is in the yukon this is what happens... i wish you would really open you [sic] eyes and understand what happens outside of the GTA..."  Attached to it was this URL, which tells of an effort to move a "nuisance" mother black bear and her two cubs in the Yukon that failed when the bears returned and the mother was killed, leaving the cubs orphaned.

But, what is so sad is that this is just one of numerous e-mails and phone calls we received in response to opposing the spring bear hunt, all with a similar theme. The criticism involves the Greater Toronto Area: Canada's most urbanized area, where many of us live, but where bears are rare or absent. The assumption is that we are all a bunch of overly-compassionate urbanites who don't experience nature in the raw, and who don't feel the need to protect ourselves, and who know nothing about animals.

It means that they're unable or unwilling to comprehend what we're really saying. The irony is that the article to which this e-mailer points to actually makes our point. By "our," I refer to an assortment of people with diverse addresses (including central and northern Ontario) and experiences with bears. As professional advocates on behalf of animals, we first look at what the experts say. That includes the scientists employed by the Ontario  Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, who have long researched the  "nuisance bear" issue-not by sitting in city apartments, but by employing various technologies to study bears in the field. It's not that we would uncritically agree with them; but, in the case of the then-Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, their findings-that the spring bear hunt made no measurable difference in the number of incidents involving "nuisance" bears-were not even considered. He knew that people like our critics hadn't read them either. that they simply feared bears, and could easily be duped into thinking he and his government, facing an election, had their better interest in mind by bringing back the spring bear hunt in several jurisdictions to "test" the results.

Contrary to our critic's belief that we are a bunch of urbanites, our numbers do include northerners. Mike McIntosh runs Bear With Us and lives in the presence of wild and tame bears that he sees and interacts with each day of the spring, summer, and fall. He, like the scientists whose work we cite, is likely far more involved with bears than our critics or politicians. For instance, Jim Johnston not only lives in the north, but took it upon himself to take a course in understanding bears, and then applied that knowledge to a program then funded by the Ministry of Natural Resources-thus significantly reducing the number of "nuisance bear" incidents for Elliot Lake. Even those of us whose primary residence is outside bear habitat have our share of bear experience. For example, I've seen all eight of the world's bears, and am a member of the International Association for Bear Research and Management.  This does not make me an expert, but it puts me in touch with those who are, and with their work.

The irony: there has long been a spring hunt in the Yukon, which did not prevent "nuisance" behaviour - exactly as we've been saying. The last Canadian killed by a bear died in the wilderness in Alberta two months ago, where, yep. they have a spring bear hunt. Predatory bears kill away from urban areas, and, as we've been saying, do so with extreme rarity. (Lightning is many times more likely to kill you in the woods.) And, this isn't prevented by spring bear hunts.

But, what is really telling about the Yukon story is that it verifies two of our most valid concerns. First, we are arguing that the problem is attractants, including garbage dumps not secured by adequate fencing-exactly as described in the Yukon story. Second, the people who shot the female didn't realize that she had cubs (again, as we have been saying). It may be illegal to shoot a female with cubs under the newly instated "test" spring bear hunt in Ontario, but hard facts gleaned by our own government show that nursing females do get shot by hunters who don't realize they are killing lactating females, leaving orphaned cubs to die.

There are a lot of people (like the guy who sent us the link to the Yukon article) who think emotively, not analytically-and, to them, facts don't matter.

Ontario's newly appointed Minister of Natural Resources, Bill Mauro, says that he has yet to receive and review information from this year's hunt.  Does it matter?  Do facts matter?  We hope so.  By all accounts, Mr. Mauro is a smart guy.  We hope, like David Ramsey, Mike Gravelle and Donna Cansfield before him, he will examine the evidence and change his mind about the spring bear hunt.  Human safety is an important matter that must be dealt with effectively.  Bear wise, not bear hunting will, provide communities with the tools to reduce human/bear conflicts keeping both people and bears safe.

Friday, 30 May 2014

World Trade Organization Again Rules Against Commercial Seal Hunt

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative

Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)

World Trade Organization Again Rules Against Commercial Seal Hunt

Canadian ignorance fuels Canadian ignorance

Published 05/28/14

In late May, it was announced that the World Trade Organization (WTO) had ruled in favour of the European Union’s ban on products derived from Canada’s northwest Atlantic commercial hunt of harp seals. Canada and Norway had appealed the ban. Just before the decision was made public, an organization called the “Trade Fairness Coalition” released a poll that suggested a majority of Europeans are opposed to the ban on seal products based on “public morality,” unless there is clear scientific evidence to support the ban.

This is where it gets, well, tacky, if not outright pathetic… a case of people willfully fooling themselves and being annoyed that others don’t go along with the nonsense. The grandly named “Trade Fairness Coalition” is an invention of such organizations as the Fur Council of Canada, the Fur Institute of Canada, Canada Mink Breeders, Canada Safari Club International Foundation, and various other organizations that don’t want “public morality” to influence policy. The “poll” was conducted by “Valued Opinions” which “surveys” people by invitation only, paying them for their opinions. That’s not exactly in keeping with the best traditions of randomly sampling carefully designated demographics selected to create models from which extrapolations can be made that will represent the population’s overall views with an identifiable degree of certainty.

But hey, if you want to fool yourself, choosing who you ask is the way to go. It’s just that European politicians, or the rest of us, are not obliged to go along with the myths.

Part of the myth Canada works so hard to create is that the “traditional” seal hunt for “sustenance,” conducted by the Inuit in the far north, is indivisible from and part of the large-scale commercial hunt that occurs early each spring in the Northwest Atlantic (Newfoundland and Labrador – “the front”) and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence: two places harp (and hooded) seals congregate to give birth on floating sea ice each year. Thus, the ban is somehow against products from both hunts, although it is not—and never has been—about the “sustenance” hunt.

The “sustenance” hunt involves a relatively small number of mostly ringed seals: a very different species from the harp. Ringed seals are the smallest seal species, and they are dependent on sea ice for their survival. But, they are also thought to be critical to the survival of another ice-dependent species: the polar bear. The northern “sustenance” hunt can also opportunistically include harp, bearded, and hooded seals.

The arctic-based Nunatsiaq News, published in Iqaluit, Nunavut, pointed out that, according to another survey, 57 percent of Europeans believe that the WTO decision could have a negative impact on trade of other animal or natural products. They seem to assume that means support for the east coast commercial seal hunt. And yet, I would agree with that opinion, and I oppose the commercial east coast hunt. I think morality is important, and if it leads to limiting trade of animal products derived from any other cruel practices, I see that as a positive development. I think most Europeans would, as well.

The Telegram, published in St. John’s, Newfoundland, quoted the National Post’s John Ivison as ironically saying that facts don’t matter to those of us opposed to the east coast commercial hunt. “They have been replaced by popular delusion and the madness of crowds.”
I’m the last one to suggest that any trade policy will either satisfy all parties or display a consistency of intent, and it was pointed out in the WTO’s decision that the EU erred by allowing trade from the Inuit hunt in Greenland even though it is as “commercial” as the east coast one. The whole idea of exempting “native,” “aboriginal,” or “first nations” from restrictions that apply to “hunting” by folks of a paler hue of skin, or whose ancestors arrived on the scene a shorter time ago (say hundreds, as opposed to thousands, of years), seems inherently biased to me—like caring if someone’s ancestors arrived on the Mayflower, or by way of Ellis Island in the 1940s.

But, while the decision by the EU (supported by the WTO) is called “hypocritical” by commercial seal hunt apologists because there are not similar bans against animal products or practices that also involve cruelty to animals, it can also be seen for what it really is: a more progressive and aggressive approach to animal welfare than is to be found in Canada. While it may be comforting to pro-sealing factions to think that animal abuse in agriculture and the subsequent production of vast amounts of meat, leather, and dairy products are ignored by the humane movement, in fact, those abuses are being aggressively challenged worldwide, to varying degrees, and intently in western Europe (compared to Canada). Canadians may not be aware of it, but the Europeans are making significant strides in outlawing the cruelest animal agriculture and other practices. There are similar and profound challenges to animal abuses sanctioned by “tradition,” such as the production of foie gras, fox hunting, hare hunting, bullfighting, cosmetic and product testing research, trapping, and use of bird lime.

I understand that what The Telegram called “some nonsense about protecting ‘public morals’” is not as important to whomever wrote that as it is to others, but in this case, the “others” happen to be members of the EU: a collective unit representing millions of voters. They are ahead of Canada on humanitarian issues, just as they are on the issue of global climate change—something that is a far greater threat to the Canadian Inuit “sustenance” seal hunt than the WTO’s decision could ever be. The ringed seal, most commonly killed by Inuit for food, pelts, and other products, is already a threatened species. And, just as Canada does not want to demonstrate anything remotely like leadership on anything to do with the humane treatment of animals, it is even more regressive with regard to environmental issues generally, and global climate change in particular. A year and a half ago, Canada was ranked 58th out of 61 countries in terms of its policies and action on climate change.

If you can really look at the commercial seal hunt and find it an acceptable way to treat animals, fine; but most of us simply can’t do that.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Book Review: The Double-Crested Cormorant

the double-breasted cormorant cover 
The Double-Crested Cormorant: Plight of a Feathered Pariah
By Linda R. Wires
Illustrated by Barry Kent Mackay
Yale University Press, 2014

Conservation biologist Linda Wires, in an utterly remarkable new volume from Yale University Press, takes up the cause of the persecuted Phalacrocorax auritus, the double-crested cormorant, a sleek, black-plumed aquatic bird from a family thirty-five or forty species found on every continent on Earth (although the double-crested is found only in North America). “More than just an account of a maligned and persecuted animal,” Wires writes, “the cormorant’s story reflects a culture still deeply prejudiced against creatures that exist outside the boundaries of human understanding and acceptance.”

cormorants twoThe persecution she’s alluding is a deeply-ingrained cultural thing that’s almost certainly rooted in simple commerce: for almost as long as humanity has cast its nets into bays, harbors, inlets, estuaries, rivers, wetlands, and even ponds, humanity has also labored under the conviction that it has a cutthroat competitor in the double-crested cormorant. As a result, even though cormorants in ancient China and Japan were for centuries domesticated into allies by fishermen themselves, they’ve been extensively persecuted virtually everywhere else. Wires stresses throughout her book (which is an absorbing combination natural history monograph and passionate manifesto) that this persecution continues today, and she’s very insightful on the cultural roots of it all:
When observed in its conspicuous spread-winged pose, common to several cormorant species, the cormorant acquires another potent aspect. In this notably bat- or vulture-like posture, the cormorant stands still and upright with both wings held out wide from the sides of its body. In this stance, frequently taken up after fishing, birds typically orient themselves toward the sun or the wind, presumably to dry their feathers or regulate heat loss and gain; some researchers have suggested that wing spreading occurs to heat up the bird’s food and facilitate digestion. Whatever the exact reason, the mysterious stance has an eerie, evocative quality, conjuring up images of crucifixion and vampires, and has fueled impressions about the bird’s dark nature.
cormorants one“At the heart of the cormorant’s story,” she elaborates, “is the extent to which its current treatment is (or is not) based on sound science, especially relative to its management for fisheries.” No study past or present has ever demonstrated that double-crested cormorants are true rivals to any kind of commercial fishing, and yet, largely as a result of blind prejudicial momentum, near-extinction policies persist even into the 21st century. Wires lays out in detail the wrong-headed U.S. federal policies – several of which are up for renewal in June of this year – that allow for the wholesale slaughters of cormorant populations under the guise of “culling.”

The calamity of this kind of policy is leant all the more weight The Double-Crested Cormorant by Wires’s skill at describing the natural history of these birds, which are awkward on land (Wires notes their particularly their ungainly habit of hooking their beaks onto rocks and branches in order to pull themselves lurchingly forward, a sight I’ve seen and laughed at myself) but beautifully graceful in their natural underwater environment. They hunt by sight (they have flat corneas, which help in achieving a condition unknown to life-long book-readers: emmetropia, perfect vision) except when the water is too dark or turbulent, in which case they hunt by means as yet unknown. They nest in all manner of locations, and they’re doting parents. They’re deep divers, and although they’ll eat virtually any kind of fish they can catch (including some only a little smaller than themselves), they seem to prefer just the kind of smaller ‘junk’ species that are of no interest to commercial fisherman in any case.

It’s a quietly stunning double performance: Wires is equally proficient as both the Roger Tory Peterson of the double-crested cormorant and its Rachel Carson. Her preservationist advocacy is unflinching, and her nature-writing is eloquent – and the whole book is enlivened by gorgeous illustrations by Barry Kent Mackay, who not only captures the cormorant in all its moods and actions but also offers accompanying pictures of many of the cormorant’s fellow estuarine birds, including an especially ominous drawing of a bald eagle, and a haunting illustration of a great heron.

The result of all this is an important work, a benchmark popular study of a bird species that needs enlightened help in order to survive. The Double-Crested Cormorant: Plight of a Feathered Pariah ought to be for sale in the gift shops of every national park in the United States at the very least – and from the sound of Wires’s conclusions, several copies sent to Congress might help too.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters Challenged by Animal Alliance of Canada

We will post what you say; will you post our comments?

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) has taken offense to a Born Free blog written by me that we posted on January 21st and edited by the Peaceful Parks Coalition to be published in northern Ontario (see   The subject was the provincial government’s plans to hold a “test” two year spring bear hunt.  The edited version was published by the Chronicle Journal, in northwestern Ontario, where most support for the spring bear hunt exists.

We challenge OFAH to do what we are doing.  We will post their entire letter, with my responses, below, and we challenge OFAH to do the same…post their own statement and my responses just as we have, to better inform readers on all side of the argument.  Below, the OFAH document will be in quotations, my responses will be in color.

“OFAH Response to Misleading Statements Made by Barry Kent MacKay (correct spelling)
“OFAH FILE: 405/828
“February 28, 2014

“To: Letter to the Editor
“Subject: Response to commentary by Barry McKay, February 22, 2014

“I would like to take this opportunity to refute some of the extremely misleading statements made by Barry Kent McKay about the spring bear hunt in Ontario. McKay claims that there is a lack of "transparency and citizen democracy," even though the proposal is currently posted on the Environmental Registry for a 30-day public comment period.”

It is interesting that OFAH referenced the EBR as a place that fosters transparency and citizen democracy.  Although the Ministry has numerous documents about black bears the only information posted was a brief summary of the issue, a partisan press release, a map of the areas where the spring hunt will occur and the two regulations that require change. It could hardly be argued that the Minister provided an open and honest discussion about the proposed hunt, ignoring the findings of his own Ministry staff in two separate studies which showed that the spring bear hunt will not reduce human/bear conflicts. As we all know, once a Ministry item is placed on the EBR for comment, the decision has already been made – hardly transparent and democratic.  As Gord Miller pointed out in Losing Touch, Part 1, “In recent years, the ministry has increasingly evaded its obligations under the EBR, depriving the public of its established rights...”

“The most disturbing aspect of McKay's letter is the misrepresentation of government data. When McKay claims that MNR estimated that 270 cubs were orphaned each spring, he shows a blatant disregard for the relevant information accompanying that estimate. The estimate of 274 orphaned cubs is actually the maximum number of cubs that could have been if no legislation existed to protect female bears (which it does) and that nursing females are as vulnerable to the hunt as other females (which they are not).”

I have to interrupt mid-paragraph.  I don’t count bears killed by hunters; the MNR does.  The figure 274 orphaned cubs came from Ken P. Morrison, then a Wildlife Specialist with the MNR, and was referencing the 1982 to 1994 hunting season in three Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) situated near Sudbury and North Bay, in a document written for the MNR in October, 1996, and copied to OFAH.   In the abstract it says 34.8 percent of the 4,131 adult bears “harvested” in just those 3 WMUs were females.  Morrison was clear that the figures were based on actual kills with the regulations in place.  He assumed that “additive cub mortality” represented a worst case scenario by assuming that five years of age was young for a sow to have cubs.  Since fecundity is driven by food availability, the ability of five year old bears to reproduce would vary from season to season. 

One of the reasons for the Morrison study was to determine whether orphaning would negatively impact the bear population.  He concluded that it did not.  However, he did not address the ethical concerns raised by animal protection organizations about the fate of bear cubs orphaned in the spring through the spring bear hunt.

If the hunt proceeds, the legislation which prohibits the killing of mother bears with cubs in the spring is a good thing.  However, there is an assumption by those who argue for the spring hunt that if the law says you can’t kill mother bears with cubs, mother bears with cubs will not be killed.  Let us examine the efficacy of such a statement.  Over 30% of the bears killed are female.  Of those, 38% are five years and older and therefore of reproductive age (which can be younger).  Regardless of the numbers, the point of Ken Morrison’s paper is the bear cubs are orphaned in the spring.  And whether hunting organizations want to acknowledge it or not cubs will starve to death, die of hypothermia or of predation.

In addition, if a hunter does shoot a mother bear, the onus is on the hunter to report the violation and accept whatever penalty may be handed out.  So the accuracy of reporting is certainly called in question.  At this time, even though reporting is mandatory, at least 30% of the hunters fail to do so and the Ministry does not take any legal action against them.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
“Statements such as this by McKay totally ignore the sophisticated and tightly regulated black bear management regime that exists in Ontario, and even prompted an MNR biologist to clarify that "the actual number of orphaned cubs was at least an order of magnitude less than the 274 figure," and that "the best information MNR staff had was that orphaning was an extremely rare event." According to the same MNR biologist, approximately 25,000 cubs are born every year in Ontario, of which 10,000 will die for reasons that have nothing to do with hunting (the most frequent causes of cub death include starvation).”

First, no citation is given.  According to Ken Morrison, a 20% loss of cubs is normal.  So if the OFAH number of 25,000 cubs born is accurate, 5,000, not 10,000 will die regardless of hunting.

A paper authored by Tom Beck, Colorado Division of Wildlife et al, titled Sociological and Ethical Considerations of Black Bear Hunting makes the following statement about orphaning:

“The biggest issue is the killing of nursing female black bears.  There is no way to prevent this from happening the spring bear season, either through hunter education or timing of season.  Nursing females often forage at great distances from their cubs...There remains great contention between hunters and bear biologists/managers as to the ability of hunters to accurately assess nursing status of bears.  The conclusion of most biologists is that it is quite difficult to accurately determine nursing status on free-ranging bears, even when a bear is in a tree or at a bait.”

Beck et al continues, “Proponents of spring hunting usually point out that most states protect females with cubs by regulation.  The regulation looks good on paper but is difficult to implement in the field because of bear behaviour.”

As David Ramsay, MPP for Timiskaming-Cochrane, former Minister of Natural Resources and a hunter, has said, “It’s just absolutely unpalatable for the majority of people to condone a hunt for mammals with their babies in the spring.  It just comes down to that.”  I agree.

“With respect to the use of bait, McKay claims that the "availability of human food conditions bears to search for such foods," citing absolutely no evidence to support his claims. At worst, he ignores the conclusions from researchers in central Ontario, Maine, and the Riding Mountain area of Manitoba that found no evidence to suggest that baiting for the purposes of hunting exacerbates conflicts between bears and people.”

One does not normally use citations in op-ed pieces, or blogs (although I do tend to use them in the latter) but I actually think, subject to research, that there is validity to the concept of “diversionary feeding”, although it is normally frowned upon by bear conservationists who employ the slogan “a fed bear is a dead bear”, meaning that when humans feed bears the bears become habituated to being around people, people complain and the bear is subsequently shot.  In the case of the spring bear hunt, if the food is placed far enough away from human habitation, as is normal, I agree that there is likely little or no likelihood of that same bear wandering into town.  But such bears are not the bears that concern people; it’s the bears that come into contact with communities, that wonder into town, that trigger the concerns whether there is a hunt or not.   In other words, putting bait out in the woods does not resolve the concern; shooting those bears that are frightening people is already legal.  And what I said was that availability of human food conditions bears to search for such foods, obviously not a concern in the woods, but a very real concern if the shooting is close enough to town to have a chance of removing the “problem” bear.

“He also claims that bears are "easy targets" at spring bait sites, a ridiculous statement that proves he has never hunted bears in this (or any other) fashion.”

Quite right. But I have fired plenty of guns rifles and shotguns and in my youth I collected zoological specimens, but simply didn’t like killing animals and quit.  But I love informal target shooting (what we called “plinking”) and while I’ll admit that as targets tin cans and bottle caps can present a challenge, bears are bigger than any such targets.  I am right that bears are easy targets.  Mark is right because it is not always easy to get a clean kill.  We examined MNR bear hunting data from 1994, a few years prior to the end of the spring hunt.  A total of 828 bears were wounded that year.  It is unclear from the stats whether those wounded were recovered.   What it shows is that even though 95.4% of the hunters hunted over bait, 13% of the total bears “harvested” were wounded.  These figures support the assertion that bears are easy target but not necessarily an easy kill.

“It is true that use of bait increases hunter success, but not nearly as much as one might think.”

This statement again is not correct. According to the Ministry, Backgrounder on Black Bears in Ontario, Non-resident success rate is generally higher at 57% as opposed to that of resident hunters at 17%  (2007 figures).  The reason for the difference is that 93% of the non-resident hunters hunt over bait.

“Bears are wary by nature, and their keen senses can easily detect a hunter.”

If detection of humans scares off bears, obviously they are not a threat to humans, and “safety” is the reason the Minister is giving for instating a limited spring hunt.  You can’t have it both ways, and in fact, in my experience human odor is neither a deterrent nor an attractant.

“Baits also gives the hunter an added opportunity to identify a bear's sex. The spring bear hunt is, in practice, dominated by the harvest of male bears.”

If this statement were true, MNR stats would show that the proportion between males and females would be different where a spring hunt occurred.  However, bear hunting stats show that the proportion of males to females is the same prior to the ending of the spring hunt and after the hunt was ended.  These data are supported by Tom Beck’s finding that most bears are killed in the latter part of the spring season when both males and females are active.

“Unfortunately, the cancellation of the spring bear hunt reduced the harvest of male bears. These bears are responsible not only for a significant proportion of human-bear conflicts, but also for acts of cannibalism on other bears. This is supported by unpublished MNR data that demonstrates that cannibalism rates can be 2-3 times greater in unhunted areas than hunted areas.”

In fact, if one examines the bear summary harvest statistics, the percentage of male to female bear killed pre and post the cancellation of the spring bear hunt remain essentially the same.  So while the number of male bears killed declined for a number of years, so did the killing of female bears which would have compensated for any additional deaths.  More importantly, Ministry studies show that bear hunting (spring and fall) has no effect on the human-bear conflicts.  Killing whatever sex of bear in the spring does not reduce the conflicts.  Two Ministry studies have confirmed this. 

With regard to cannibalism, there are at least competing thoughts on why this might occur.  The conclusion of the study titled, BEARS-THEIR BIOLOGY AND MANAGEMENT states,
"Adult male black bears do not help feed or defend their young (Jonkel and Cowan 1971). They may, however, indirectly protect their offspring by reducing immigration of new males into an area. Rogers (1977), in his kinship theory, hypothesized that resident males would normally not kill cubs because they typically use the same area year after year and share these areas with their offspring. Therefore, the chances are high that if a resident male killed a cub he would be killing his own offspring. Immigrating males, however, would not run such a risk. For them, killing cubs would eliminate a competing male's young and increase their own chances for mating by causing a female to become receptive for breeding. Thus, as the number of resident males are reduced, the killing of young by immigrating males may increase."
This study suggests that male bears killing cubs is exacerbated by the removal of resident males through hunting.  Of course male bears can eat cubs, which is why females don’t bring them into proximity of an easy food source, such as bait – there may be a male nearby.  But this is nature being natural and it is not a commonplace.  Studies show incidences vary from year to year and place to place – the highest incidence I’ve seen being in Arizona, and in no way justifies making other cubs die of starvation.   But since we are citing unpublished writing let me do the same, only I will name the author and quote the text.  The author Dr. Lynn Rogers, a well known American bear biologist, referencing the unpublished work of Dr. George Kolenosky, a retired MNR biologist:

"All cubs orphaned in the spring die.  When a mother is killed in the spring, her cubs begin a slow death.  At first the cubs wait quietly for her in the safety of a tree.  As the pain of hunger grows in their bellies, they begin to squall for her.  Eventually, they are killed by a predator or die slowly of starvation.  Cubs’ mouths are still adapted mainly for sucking in April and early May, and their teeth are not yet developed enough to chew vegetation.  In late May and June they begin eating solid food but they still need their mother’s rich milk to survive and grow.  Dr. George Kolenosky, an Ontario MNR biologist, studied seven cubs that were orphaned between May 24 and June 4 and died of starvation 11 to 30 days later.  In the 10 hours preceding their deaths, they lay on the ground unable to get up when a person approached.  As cubs weaken with starvation, they become increasingly vulnerable to predation, so not all cubs get to the final stage of weakness witnessed in this study."

Arguably, it might cause less suffering if, in fact, the male bears do find and kill the cubs orphaned by hunters accidentally or unintentionally killing female bears, which, as I say, examination of hunter kills shows does happen in the spring bear hunt.

“The great irony is that, by successfully lobbying for the cancellation of the spring bear hunt, animal rights activists were successful in dooming hundreds more cubs to death at the claws and teeth of aggressive and cannibalistic male bears.”

In order to remove enough male bears to remove this “threat” you would not have a sustainable hunt.  The MNR regulates all hunting under its regulatory control with the goal of sustainability.  Thus there are still plenty of male bears, not all of whom are “aggressive and cannibalistic”.  Indeed, while we need a lot more research on primal, non-hunted populations in order to establish rigorous baseline data, I can find no indication that cannibalism is commonplace among Ontario black bears, or that there would be a net increase in the incidence of cannibalism by male bears in the absence of a spring hunt, nor does OFAH offer any evidence.

What is so interesting about this statement is that the number of hunters hunting black bears prior to the end of the spring hunt is essentially the same in the years post spring hunt.  Pre-hunt, the average number of bear hunters was 19,892.  Post-hunt the average number was 19,704.  The proportion of male bears to female bears is essentially the same as well.  How is it that such dramatic changes to bear behaviour occurred due to the spring hunt cancellation?  The answer is that there are no dramatic changes and no evidence of such.

“This is the price we all pay when wildlife management is dictated by misinformation rather than scientific data.”

It is the Minister and the OFAH who are ignoring the science.  As we have pointed out earlier, Ministry staff have produced two papers which clearly demonstrate that killing bears in the spring will not reduce human/bear conflicts which is the Minister’s stated objective.  This may not be the objective of the OFAH.

Unfortunately the Minister did not consult scientific data, even from the experts in his own Ministry.  He has offered no scientific rationale for his decision at all (and yes, I have asked, both him and his staff).

“For more factual information about bear hunting, please visit

“Yours in Conservation,
“Mark Ryckman, M.Sc.
“Senior Wildlife Biologist
“Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters”

No thanks.  I’ll stick to what the science shows and compassion dictates. Now…will you post this on the OFAH list and let your members see our side of things, or no…we have let everyone see YOUR position.

Barry Kent MacKay

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

WWF does, or I should say doesn’t, do it again

By Barry Kent MacKay

Well darn.   My friends all laughed (they can be mean) when I expressed optimism.  David Miller, former mayor of Toronto, had been appointed head of World Wildlife Fund Canada.   “That could be good,” I argued.  “They might change!”  My friends kept giggling.

You see, among world conservationists Canada is, well, subject to derision, a country where the federal government actively opposes environmentalism and environmentalists.  And among conservation organizations the biggest, the World Wildlife Fund, is, well, let us say seen as a small “c” hyper-conservative, don’t rock the boat kind of organization, good when it comes to having big bucks to spend on research and studies, but terrified of being associated with anything that might hurt the status quo.   There are exceptions: WWF (aka World Wide Fund for Nature) certainly was on the side of most of us on the blue-fin tuna issue, advocating for a ban on commercial trade (it didn’t happen).   But as a broad generality they try so hard not to offend the powers-that-be.   What they don’t want to do, it seems, is hurt potential future partners, government or industry.  Government and industry thus loves them and their panda logo.  The panda, meanwhile, continues its slow march to extinction.

Consider Coca Cola.   WWF and Coca Cola had a great thing going, Coke using the literally iconic polar bear, or a digitalized facsimile thereof, in their ads, promising to give money to WWF to protect the species.

And what is being done?  Well, we have a “national polar bear day” on February 27.  Oh good.   AND…recognizing that climate change is what most threatens the polar bear, WWF is attacking its root cause.

As WWF-Canada proudly states: “We’ve identified a resilient stretch of ice that is projected to remain when all other large areas of summer sea ice are gone. We’re calling it the Last Ice Area, and it’s part of our solution for conserving life in the Arctic. This is a place where we have the chance to get it right by planning for a healthy Arctic future. It’s an opportunity to make sure that Arctic ecosystems are valued by communities and businesses in the North and around the world, that this resilient region will support people and wildlife for generations to come. With your support, we are making sure this opportunity isn’t lost.”

Does that make sense to you?  Me either.  It’s not that they aren’t fighting climate change at all: we did have national sweater day, that was February 6 (I’m not making this up), when we all were urged to wear a sweater, and turn down the heat in our homes.   I guess we’re the guilty ones, eh?  Yes sir; I’ve done my conservation duty and gee, that hardly hurt at all.

Anyway, a while ago I was asked by a concerned citizen if Canada would consider doing an ivory crush.  We know that any “legal” elephant ivory present fueled the illegal poaching of elephants, with massive declines in elephant populations.  As a result countries in Africa, starting with Kenya in 1989, have destroyed stockpiles of ivory, instead of selling them for funds they could assuredly use.   The U.S. recently did the same, except instead of burning, which would contribute to air pollution, they literally crushed it to worthless powder….and that included confiscated art objects and souvenirs, buttons and piano keys plus whole tusks.

I laughed (but quietly, kindly) and said I didn’t think Canada would join the effort to conserve elephants, but my correspondent persevered, and quite understandably wrote to WWF-Canada, asking the organization to sign on to the idea.

David Miller wrote back: “Thank you so much for your support and active interest in stopping the illegal trade in ivory.

“We are proud of the role WWF and Traffic have played in this effort over many years, including in Canada, and we work very closely with Canadian enforcement authorities and routinely consult with them, including providing expert advice and support.

“I am advised that the Canadian ivory stockpile is very low and secure against becoming part of the illegal trade. While we appreciate the possible symbolic value of such a gesture, we will be unable to sign the letter as our efforts are focused on the illegal trade itself rather than legal ivory.”

However he added that WWF gave “expert advice” on a recent persecution of narwhal tusk smuggling (hey…it’s made of ivory) and at the bottom we are reminded that Loblaws Company Limited presented National Sweater Day, when we “Turn down the heat and put on a cozy sweater to show your support for action on climate change and energy conservation.”

Take THAT, Stephen Harper, and shove it up your pipelines.

Miller’s response is surprising, given that Carter Roberts, president and CEO of WWF in the U.S., said, “By crushing this ivory stockpile, the U.S. government is sending a signal.  If we’re going to solve this crisis we have to crush the demand, driven by organized crime syndicates who are robbing the world of elephants and stealing the natural heritage of African Nations.”   See the difference?  Roberts continued, “It’s a global phenomenon. So we hope this encourages other governments to take bold, decisive steps to curb the demand for illegal elephant products.”

Even Prince William…what a radical guy…has proposed the destruction of all ivory held in the royal collection, some 1,200 items, including an ivory-decorated throne form India.

Come, David, get with it.  Take the same radical route as various governments, Carter Roberts and Prince William and advocate on behalf of destroying Canada’s ivory.  Then go home, turn down the temperature, put in a cozy sweater and save the planet your way, having briefly succumbed to radical discontent in the interest of just maybe saving the world’s largest living land animal – isn’t that what WWF is supposed to be doing?