ONTARIO - Campers and residents
in most of Ontario face greater danger with bears this year because
the Ontario government has cut by more than half the number of staff
trained to deal with bears that threaten people’s safety.
The recent Ontario Budget
directed the Ministry of Natural Resources to cut $50 million from
its budget. Changes to the Bear Wise education and response program
are among the ill-advised cuts, according to Warren (Smokey) Thomas,
President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.
“The McGuinty Liberals are way
off base with claims that government can take this huge step back
and make the warding off of bear attacks a personal rather than
public responsibility,” says Thomas. “Bears don’t read MNR education
materials or heed No Trespassing signs. Sometimes, despite people’s
best efforts, bears pose a danger to humans. Cutting experts out of
the mix is hardly the answer.”
The MNR has 21 technicians in 15
Northern Ontario communities, down from 48 in 25 communities.
Ministry cuts mean they will no longer set traps, relocate bears,
make on-site visits to landowners who are having conflicts with
bears, or do public education for schools, day and overnight camps,
and outdoor nature groups.
People in areas without bear
technicians will have to call local or Ontario Provincial Police,
depending on where they are. That diverts police resources from
other areas, says Ed Evens, president of OPSEU Local 703 in Sioux
Lookout and an elected representative for OPSEU members at MNR.
“This is an inappropriate
response, since police are not trained to deal with wildlife,” Evens
says. “We think the ministry changes will lead to a lot more bears
being shot by homeowners and police. Right now, the bear population
is stable. At this time of year, when you shoot a bear, you run the
risk of killing a mother and leaving cubs on their own. Clearly,
cuts to the Bear Wise program are bad for the people and not so good
for the bears either.”