Bear Wise Team



Bear Wise Team

Peter H. Davis, Fergus I. McNeil, Mary Horbatuk, Lois Deacon, Linda Wall, Robert Walroth, Ted Armstrong, Tim Moody, Jeremy Inglis, Jacques H. Landry, Mike Hall, Ross A. Johnston, Maria de Almeida, Helen Ambrose, J.J. Beechie, Tom Mispel-Beyer, Fadia Mishrigi, Lee-Ann Choquette, Heather K. Bickle, Lina Rampino, Craig T. Greenwood, Michel Payen-Dumont, Cindy Donovan, Charity Haines, Lianne Vipond, Jolanta Kowalski, Dianne Corbett, Dr. Martyn E. Obbard, Alison M. MacKenzie, Greg A. Wake, Sandra A. Dunham, Mark R. Lawson, Christopher M. Lemieux, Dr. William R. Darby, Kevin M. Hawthorne, Gary Martin, Jennifer Keyes, Pauline Suppa, Sandra Elvin, Kate A. Grom, Eva Kennedy, Barry Radford, Karen Bellamy, Eric J. Howe

For Developing and Delivering Ontario’s First Collaborative Bear Awareness and Prevention Program through Multi-level Partnerships

Joe Couto, Director of Government Relations and Communications, Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, in a letter supporting this nomination says: “The Bear Wise Program is an example of how government can and should work with their community partners to solve community problems.” Partnerships, both internal and external, were vital to developing and implementing the Bear Wise Program – a comprehensive, province-wide and multi-pronged program aimed at reducing human-bear conflicts through education and awareness, reporting, response and prevention. This provincial team of Ministry employees worked tirelessly, and together to deliver Ontario’s first collaborative bear program aimed at making Ontario’s communities safer.

The Bear Wise project exemplifies the importance of creating partnerships and that by working together we can accomplish great things. A key message of the Bear Wise Program is that everybody has a role to play in reducing human-bear conflicts. Ontario communities are working with Ministry staff to develop community-based programs to prevent human-bear conflicts. Community champions include Elliot Lake, Ear Falls and Wawa. Additionally, MNR has initiated cooperative research projects with municipalities to monitor and assess the effectiveness of bear deterrents. Cottage associations, schools, and other interested groups have partnered with MNR to deliver key messages to their members.

The Bear Wise Program embraces current government direction to work horizontally, not only across ministries but also across governments at all levels. The benefits include making roles clearer, exchanging ideas, building on successes, sharing responsibilities and using resources more efficiently and effectively.

The Ontario Provincial Police and MNR signed a protocol clarifying roles and responsibilities around responding to human-bear problems. The program was also actively supported by 31 municipal police agencies across Ontario. Additionally, many Ontario municipalities have picked up the program in an effort to reduce attracting bears into their communities.

A coordinated communication and education program has been key to ensuring Ontario residents have information about how to prevent attracting bears to their property, what to do if they want to report a bear, and who to contact in the case of an emergency. Once again, Ministry staff have been working locally in communities across Ontario to provide information about bears, how to remove attractants and what to do in the event of an encounter. It is estimated that over 50 per cent of bear-human conflicts are the result of improperly stored garbage.

Stephen Herrero, recognized throughout the world as a leading authority on bear ecology, behaviour, and attacks, feels the Bear Wise Program is the “best organized and most committed attempt to make the needs of bears compatible with human activities. “ He also says in a letter supporting this nomination that: “This is the kind of program the bear biologists and managers have wanted in jurisdictions throughout Canada and the United States. Ontario is the first jurisdiction in North America outside of parks and protected areas to commit to such a progressive program.”

  • The Bear Wise Program – based on the four cornerstones of prevention, public awareness, reporting and response – benefited Ontario by providing a fully integrated, multi-tiered program in a cost efficient, manner, resulting in positive partnerships at the community and provincial level, a marked improvement in public agency safety response matched with increased knowledge and awareness for residents and visitors to Ontario.
  • Partners appreciated the opportunity of participating in the development and execution of the Bear Wise Program and responded with energy and resources to develop policies educational materials, design equipment, participate in scientific studies, report and respond to incidents, educate their citizens, enhance distribution of educational materials, and protect their communities as well as the bear population.
  • The consultative process was very effective in reaching consensus with a very large and diverse array of program stakeholders. Over 600 communities were contacted and given an opportunity to engage prior to the advent of the program.
  • The program reached agreement across many agencies as to roles, accountabilities and responsibilities for community issue response. This level of agreement attest to the strong horizontal cooperation across agencies involved with this program.
  • The program successfully married science, policy, operations and communications into a cohesive package.
  • The communications materials were produced effectively in template format to ensure consistency of branding and messaging across the province. Partners, municipalities and interest groups were able to download masters from the website, insert their own identification and maintain consistent messaging without incurring additional expense. Materials were produced in English, French and where appropriate, Cree and Ojibway.
  • Expanded delivery of communications materials was made through sister ministries, municipalities, schools and other stakeholders.
  • Many municipalities have met with great success after implementing the Bear Wise Program. As an example, Elliott Lake has seen the following results:

The year prior to introduction of the Bear Wise program (2003)

  • there were 509 bear calls to the city
  • 18 bears were trapped and moved
  • 3 bears were shot
  • 2 bears were immobilized

After introduction of the Bear Wise program (2004)

  • 77 calls to MNR centre and OPP
  • 0 bears trapped
  • 0 bears shot
  • 1 bear immobilized.
  • MNR, City of Elliott Lake, Friends of Algoma, Cambrian College worked to establish a comprehensive risk assessment program. The city identified steps it could take on its own and passed amendments to its waste disposal by-laws and established a new agreement with its garbage collection contractor.
  • Another partner, the Algoma Health Unit, examined and issued orders to two commercial establishments under the Health Protection and Promotion act for improper care and storage of their food wastes.
  • Collaborative research and effectiveness monitoring efforts. Cambrian College developed a new humane trap which was modified in collaboration with MNR, technical engineering specs which were developed and posted on the Bear Wise website for free use. Research efforts to look at other humane non-lethal methods of deterring bears (aversion conditioning) are underway with collaboration from Cambrian College. MNR has partnered with several communities and individual landowners to test and showcase different prevention techniques e.g. electric fencing and electric mats.
  • Developed a comprehensive set of standards, protocols and training modules for government staff, police, service providers and agents.
  • Service delivery agreements with police agencies, contract service providers and agents.

In a letter supporting this nomination, Jim Johnston, President, Friends of Algoma East says: “It is only through cooperation with a wide range of stakeholders that such a program can be effectively delivered and I believe that the MNR has done an excellent job in that regard in spite of much controversy at times.” He said: “Regular contacts with and support from all our “Bear Wise” team has been critical to ongoing success from the initial stages to the present and we commend all those involved with ensuring that the program has been a real team effort.”

While members of each team were tasked with developing collaborative relationships and partnerships for their individual areas of responsibility, the success of the Bear Wise Program can best be attributed to the dedication, innovation, hard work, and endless good will of the team at large.


  • Bear Wise team members fostered and nurtured partnerships with Natural Resources program areas (Enforcement, Parks, Fish and Wildlife Branch, Natural Resource Management Division, Science Information and Research Division, and Communications) to develop the Bear Wise Program, materials, policies and procedures. They worked with other government ministries including Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Northern Development and Mines, Municipal Affairs and Housing, Environment to reach the public with messages. They worked with organizations such as Cambrian College to take cooperative approaches towards research projects like the enclosed aversion research. They reached into communities to work with elementary and secondary schools to provide awareness and education and worked with Trent University to develop Grade 2, 4 and 7 curriculum-based education about bears. They worked with municipalities to develop bear hazard assessments and plans and to implement prevention and education programs. They also worked with the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, First Nations, and Science Communities to capitalize on a broad range of expertise and ensuring consistent buy in to the program at nominal cost.
  • Developed relationships, met with and shared information with experts from other jurisdictions in Canada & United States.
  • Bear Wise team members developed a broadly based prevention program in cooperation with communities – including aboriginal – in which hazard assessments were conducted, waste disposal practices changed, communication initiatives undertaken.
  • Over 600 communities were contacted and invited to participate in the development of the Bear Wise Program.
  • Bear Wise team members vetted and approved over 230 partnered community projects. MNR’s Bear Wise team worked closely with communities to implement projects valued at over $900k ranging from the purchase and installation of bear proof dumpsters to holding community education forums where educational materials prepared by MNR were dispersed.
  • Bear Wise team members developed Memorandums of Understanding with 40 municipalities and 31 municipal police forces.
  • Bear Wise team members developed and implemented Municipal funding guidelines.
  • Developed best practices information and information that could be used to develop municipal bylaws to manage garbage and prevent inappropriate feeding of wildlife.
  • Developed several technical notes e.g. electric fencing to reduce damage for bee keepers, waste disposal sites, agricultural crops, etc.
  • Prevention messages were developed in both official languages and automated as part of the Bear Wise 24/7 hot line.


  • Support materials, decision trees and comprehensive animal handling protocols and training courses were developed and delivered by Bear Wise team members to staff, police, service providers and agents involved in responding to bear problems.
  • Clear response roles and protocols were developed and implemented for police, MNR and municipal response.
  • A protocol was negotiated with the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police and implemented across the province covering both provincial police and municipal police services.
  • Staffing support and operating support was provided to the field resulting in over 50 technicians being hired, trained and fully equipped – including branded safety wear.
  • A 24-7 telephone line was established to provide information and support to the public and to remove a considerable load of responsibility from the local police and municipalities. Trained Bear Wise team members responded to over 14,000 calls to the Bear Wise Toll Free line and worked closely with the local police in response to emergency calls. French language capability was ensured and hearing impaired technology (TTY) also was implemented.
  • Bear trap design specs were developed by Cambrian College and modified by MNR – over 70 new and 20 cub traps were manufactured and shipped to field locations in the space of three months from design changes to shipment.
  • Equipment for immobilizing bears; aversive conditioning, etc and field kits, were purchased and provided to districts.
  • Satellite pagers were purchased and a system of 24/7 reporting system was put in place across the province.
  • A computerized reporting system (BIRTA) was developed to allow for paper free reporting of incidents; tracking of response and generation of reports.


  • Bear Wise team members developed a comprehensive communications package that included Cabinet approved branding for all materials, advertising in community newspapers, earned media, placed articles numerous fact sheets, technical notes; best practices information, displays, posters, fridge magnets, web site, and electronic education book aimed at elementary and secondary students & teachers but suitable for all ages.
  • All communications materials (many attached to this nomination) were made available to partners in electronic or print format that allowed for local branding of individual partners (e.g. communities) but ensured consistency of messaging and branding – thus increasing the breadth of message delivery.
  • Video footage was shot to support media announcements and media coverage.
  • Bear Wise team members developed relationships with the press and initiated earned media opportunities for the Minister and program staff.
  • Bear Wise team members developed relationships with other ministries, interest groups and municipalities for the distribution of educational materials.
  • Bear Wise team members worked within the communities directly with citizens to educate community populations including First Nations communities.
  • Thousands of Ontario citizens were contacted directly in town hall meetings, schools and neighbourhood door knocks.
  • The Minister participated in announcements, media interviews, provincial meetings and video interviews shown on Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food’s program “Town and Country”.
  • Presentations about the program were delivered at 4 major municipal organizations (Association of Municipalities of Ontario; Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities; Rural Ontario Municipal Association; Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association) covering the province.
  • Over 100 media calls were handled by communications, parks and field staff.
  • MNR partnered with other government and non-government agencies to support production of a national education video about living in bear country and sponsored development of another video production educating the public about living with bears.

In a letter supporting this nomination, Director of Canadians for Bears Ainslie Willock writes:“It’s an excellent program because it serves the immediate needs of a diverse range of residents living in bear habitat who have a concern or problem and at the same time it provides long-term solutions by educating residents on how to live in black bear country. “

The following highlights several of the actions taken to maintain the quality and effectiveness of the partnership

  • Invited partners met with Ministry staff to evaluate the 2004 program and provide advice for changes in 2005. All communities through respective districts were given an opportunity to comment on the program and provide advice on changes.
  • "Bear Necessities” an informative newsletter about the program implementation was developed and shared with MNR staff throughout the year.
  • MNR team members worked closely with police response teams throughout bear season – in some cases attending morning roll call with police.
  • There has been continuing interaction with the Ontario Provincial Police and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police regarding the implementation and effectiveness of the Police / MNR protocol.
  • MNR team members attend municipal town council meetings.
  • MNR team members continue to work with municipalities and First Nations communities to develop and initiate funding opportunities and provide ongoing support during the implementation of the project.
  • MNR team members participated in Open Houses in the municipalities as part of the municipal team of local government, police and MNR. MNR team members were available to answer all biology and program based questions.
  • MNR team members attended classrooms, cottage association meetings, and many public events to provide support to the municipal education efforts.
  • All communications and education materials were offered to the partners and stakeholders free of charge to encourage consistent messaging and enhance communications efforts.
  • MNR team members have worked with school boards to provide information assisting with the safety of students and increasing their understanding of the important role bears play in our ecology.
  • MNR team members have taken a leadership role and are currently working with the National Cooperative Wildlife Health Network, the Canadian Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians, the Ontario College of Veterinarians and Health Canada to ensure that safe, humane chemical immobilization drugs are available to wildlife professionals in Ontario for the non-lethal handling of problem bears.
  • MNR team members continue to work closely with educational resources to develop curriculum-based programs, specifically for grades 2, 4 and 7.
  • The program continues to reach out and support partners and communities. A community champion and designation program is in development. This program would recognize those communities that have implemented the Bear Wise program and moved the yardstick of success within their communities.
  • Program evaluations were conducted with the partners.
  • Planning for next bear season (2006) has already begun.

“I believe the project team, comprised of ministry staff working with partners, exemplified the true meaning of public service in the design, development and implementation of the key ministry initiative known as Bear Wise. Building lasting partnerships, particularly under intense pressure as was the case, takes a special skill set and a commitment to the interests of our partners as well as to the project. The skill and dedication of this team is what made this program work so well,”MNR Wildlife Section Manager Deb Stetson, letter of support for this nomination.