Responsible Bear Management

The Regulations of Responsible Bear Management in Nova Scotia -JUNE 1997-

by Tony Nette

The sale of bear gallbladders is still permitted in Nova Scotia. However, the Province now requires that galls are registered with and sealed by the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables . This new regulation can best be understood within the context of the history of bear management in Nova Scotia.

The only bear species found in Nova Scotia is the American Black Bear (Ursus americanus). From the time of the first European settlers until very recently, it has been considered a threat to agriculture, property and human beings. From 1909 until 1966, there were a number of bounties on bears in Nova Scotia. At times during that period, these included both a provincial and a municipal bounty. During the bounty years, records indicate annual harvests of between 139 and 409 animals. Although the bounty was lifted in 1966, many Nova Scotians continue to look upon the black bear as a destructive pest.

Between 1966 and 1988, the animal enjoyed little protection. During this period, estimated annual harvests rose to as high as 882 bears. (See Figure 1) In addition to kills associated with protection of property, any person having a big game license, (i.e. up to 95,500 deer hunters), could kill an unlimited number of bears. As well, trappers could obtain a permit at no cost which entitled them to the same freedom.

During the late 1970's and early 1980's, there was growing concern about the sustainability of these high harvest levels. In addition, hunters continued to insist that bears be afforded greater protection and be recognized as a valued big game animal. These management concerns resulted in the implementation of new regulations in 1988 that have remained in place until now. They include:

  1. A separate license to hunt bears (at a cost of $20 + tax);
  2. A separate license to trap bears (foot snare only) also at $20 + tax;
  3. Issuing of bear hunting and snaring licenses only at local NR&R offices;
  4. Hunting over bait only;
  5. Bait site registration with NR&R;
  6. Written landowner permission on private land (73 per cent of province);
  7. Separation of the bear hunting season from the deer hunting season (to reduce poaching of deer);
  8. Compulsory submission of hunter and trapper report cards, regardless of success;
  9. A bag limit of one bear by hunting and one by snaring.

These regulations effectively changed the taking of bears from a relatively free, unlimited activity to a hunt that requires pre-planning and an investment of time and money. As a result, those truly serious about hunting or snaring bears can now be counted and identified, as well as required to submit information and specimens helpful to the management of the species.

In 1992-93, the Nova Scotia Wildlife Federation (NSWF - an umbrella sporting organization) requested that consideration be given to a spring hunt. Part of NR&R's decision-making process was to gain public input. It quickly became an emotionally charged debate, with those opposed to hunting at one extreme and bear hunting enthusiasts at the other. A poorly informed general public watched the debate intensify. The process attracted much media attention and raised the awareness of bear hunting. Although the idea of a spring hunt was rejected, the debate generated numerous inquiries about bear hunting to both NR&R and NSWF. In the following years, hunting and snaring license sales and the corresponding harvest increased substantially. (See Table 1)

Although other minor regulation changes have been made since 1988, it was not until 1996 that the bear gall sealing program was introduced. This was done after international attention was drawn to Nova Scotia as one of the three remaining Canadian jurisdictions still permitting the sale of bear gallbladders. The Department of Natural Resources and Renewables received many questions, concerns and objections on the issue. NR&R's philosophy has always been that, "If an animal has been legally taken, the person doing so is encouraged to make full use of that animal." Since the bear harvest was at a sustainable level, the Department's main concern was ensuring that Nova Scotia's management regulations did not impact on the management objectives of other jurisdictions. It was ultimately concluded that disallowing the sale of galls could impact other jurisdictions, as could continuing the loosely regulated sale of galls.

At about the same time, (February 1996) the World Wildlife Fund Canada sent a number of recommendations to a meeting of Canadian government agencies. One of the recommendations was, "In provinces where the sale of bear parts is legal, mandatory marking, registration and recording systems be implemented in order to monitor the legal trade."

Consequently, NR&R decided to implement a sealing and recording program to allow the continued sale of galls. This would also ensure minimal impact on the population management of other jurisdictions.

The regulations' main points are:

  1. All bear gallbladders must be sealed by NR&R prior to sale or export from the province.
  2. Seals used are permanent locking devices, having Nova Scotia identification and a recorded serial number.
  3. Records are kept of date of issue, hunter/trapper i.d., license number, condition of the gall (dried, frozen or green), weight and the seal serial number.
  4. Galls of bears taken in other jurisdictions (regardless of bear species) that are passing through Nova Scotia will only be sealed if they are accompanied by documentation proving legal origin from a jurisdiction that permits sale. A fee of $5 is charged for each seal as a means of administrative cost recovery. Postal scales, already used at all local offices, are used to determine the weight of each gall.

By summer of 1997, most galls taken during the previous fall's hunt had been sold and exported - records indicate that 167 galls were sealed by July, of which three were done by NR&R for demonstration/educational purposes. A small number of these were galls held over from the fall of 1995. The number of bears harvested during the fall of 1996 was 291.

The administration of these sealing regulations requires additional time by Department staff. However, they allow the continued full use of legally taken bears. The program's effectiveness, as well as harvest levels and the status of Nova Scotia's bear population will continue to be monitored.