Skip to content

Letter: Spring bear hunt cannot be justified

Writer takes issue with the spring bear hunting season in the Yukon
Email (Black Press Files)

Spring bear hunt is designed by our dominant culture to kill mature boars when they come out of hibernation.

It poses an opportunity for a trophy hunt dressed up as a conservation management tool to preserve grizzly and black bear populations.

On the contrary, killing mature male bears in spring has quite the opposite effect.

The lack of sexually mature males not only cuts down the gene pool in a grizzly population but also impairs the fecundity of female bears. If there are no mature male bears around, a female grizzly will not go into heat, and the opportunity of having cubs can be lost for several years.

Grizzly bears are one of the slowest-reproducing mammals in North America. The age at which females produce their first litter varies from four to eight years old. Cubs stay with their moms for about two to four years, learning all the necessary skills to survive.

During this timeframe the mom will not become pregnant again.

We also have to consider that the reproductive cycle of grizzlies is highly precarious. Once a female has mated in the summer, she delays embryo implantation until hibernation.

Without enough nutrients and caloric intake to take her through hibernation, miscarriage will occur. Anyone familiar with spring bear hunts knows that, following every hunting season, many bear cubs are found orphaned. Orphaned first-year cubs die a slow death of starvation.

Mother bears are frequently shot by mistake, leaving their young families with no hope of survival. The reason is this: although there is no open season on female bears (just Yukon outfitters are allowed to take a percentage), wide variations occur in the size and shape of these animals, regardless of gender. Often, it is impossible to distinguish a male bear from a female simply by its appearance, especially at a distance or in poor light. (To accommodate errors, it is not illegal in the Yukon to shoot a female bear!)

Female bears generally hide their cubs before approaching a food resource/ bait so hunters are unlikely see the young animals.The one and only way to remedy this problem is to eliminate the hunt.

Adult male bears are considered to be an important means to put young male bears into their place. Experienced old male bears are vital to “manage” young male grizzly behaviour and populations.

Even without hunting, the survival of the grizzly bear population in the Yukon is challenged by many factors.

Food resources for bears are dramatically cut back through habitat fragmentation, human development and overfishing, which results in poor salmon runs. The biggest threats, however, are climate change and massive forest fires, which result in food shortages and push bears out of their innate habitats. Also, the bears’ berry harvest is affected.

We have a 10 per cent decline of berry crops per decade, according to Tom Jung, senior wildlife biologist with the Yukon Government, who is co-author on a recently published study that monitored berry sites in the Yukon for 20 years.

Can we still justify the hunting of grizzly bears, which are mostly hunted as trophies, to add to all the stress bears are facing right now? Particularly the spring bear hunt, which is done when bears emerge from hibernation in search of food.

The fact is, we do not know how many grizzly bears we have left in the Yukon. Published “healthy population” numbers are based on 40-year-old estimates and anecdotal reports.

If we lose grizzly bears, we will not only lose a number of other species but also a major part of Yukon’s and North America’s story!

Dr. Annette Belke