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