By Jenn Watt
Haliburton Highlands OPP killed a bear in the Kennisis Lake area after reports it had been breaking into dwellings for three weeks and had lost fear of humans.
“This is a dangerous situation because the bear had no fear of humans and was directly entering dwellings in search of food” said acting Staff Sgt. Jason Folz of Central Region Headquarters for the OPP. “The bear was in and out of the cottage when police arrived and did not run away when approached by humans. The behaviour of this animal is a serious public safety concern.”
The bear was killed on July 6 at about 2 p.m. on Pine Point Road.
Seasonal resident Craig Gilbert said he was at his cottage with his family when the bear was killed and heard several gunshots. He wasn’t comfortable with the measures taken by the police and questioned whether the situation could have been avoided.
“… it’s very disturbing that in very close proximity a police officer was firing his weapon with no warning to neighbours. I find it very sad that we can’t manage the few incidents of wildlife encounters we have a paid resource the MNR (and a cottage lake association) to do this and also to provide better education” Gilbert said in an email.
Folz said the officer had public safety in mind and that there wasn’t time to warn neighbours.
“Dealing with a public safety issue such as this is a very fluid and dynamic situation. OPP members are trained to safely use issued firearms with utmost concern for public safety. In this situation there was not the time to warn everyone when the opportunity to safely dispatch the animal presented itself” he said.
Gilbert said the bear had been seen on his property in the preceding weeks and with no food sources available it left without incident. Concerned there could be an issue with the bear and area residents Gilbert said his daughter offered to take neighbours’ trash to the dump to remove attractants for the bear.
The police regularly get calls about wildlife Folz said though destroying animals is not common as most will move along on their own. In order for police to kill wildlife “The animal must be a direct threat to public safety. In this instance entering dwellings [definitely] meets the criteria” he said.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said they could not give out specific statistics on how frequently they receive calls from Haliburton County as they do not compile statistics that way.
MNRF spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski provided general information about her ministry’s procedures regarding nuisance bears:
“Public safety is our top priority. Ministry staff will work with police services to determine an appropriate plan of action if a bear is posing an immediate threat to personal safety. This may involve aversive conditioning trapping or dispatch as a last resort” she said.
“Bears want to avoid humans. While most encounters are not aggressive and attacks are rare you should contact 911 or your local police if a bear poses an immediate threat to personal safety and exhibits threatening or aggressive behaviour such as: enters a school yard when school is in session; stalks people and lingers at the site; enters or tries to enter a residence; wanders into a public gathering; kills livestock/pets and lingers at the site.”
Kowalski said the MNRF was aware of and was managing the situation with the bear at Kennisis Lake for weeks and distributed Bear Wise information through the cottage association and municipality.
“Ministry staff closely monitored public reports of bear activity in the area reported through our Bear Wise phone line. The Ministry communicated regularly with the OPP and were working with them to be responsive to the situation” she said in an email to the Echo on July 14. ” The day the bear was dispatched Ministry staff were in the process of setting a trap at the last location where the bear had been seen.”
Gilbert said he has been pursuing the issue with the OPP and has made calls to the detachment receiving responses he said are unsatisfactory. He said measures should have been taken earlier to avoid killing the bear.
“I guess my real issue is that there’s really no ‘bear management’ program in place in Haliburton. If there was there’s a very strong probability this bear wouldn’t have been killed. Whether this is a municipal MNR police or joint responsibility we have not (in Haliburton) implemented any really effective bear management practises” he said.
Members of the public have two main resources to contact if a bear has created an issue on their property: the police and the MNRF.
“If a bear poses an immediate threat to personal safety or exhibits threatening or aggressive behaviour your first call should be to 911 or your local police services” said Kowalski. “Police will respond to an emergency but may request assistance from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry during daylight hours. Call the Ministry’s toll-free Bear Wise reporting line at 1-866-514-2327 (which operates 24 hours a day seven days a week from April 1 to November 30) for non-emergency encounters including if a bear: roams around or checks garbage cans; breaks into a shed where garbage or food is stored; is in a tree; pulls down a bird feeder or knocks over a barbecue; moves through a backyard or field but does not linger.”
The public is reminded to store garbage in an enclosed storage area and not to fill bird feeders until winter. Bears are attracted to strong smells so it’s important not to leave any food items outside.
Information on dealing with bears can be found at https://www.ontario.ca/page/prevent-bear-encounters-bear-wise.