Ecotourism and Human-Bear Relations in Ontario: Working for Multispecies Respect and Economic Sustainability
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Relations between northern Ontario’s human communities and black bears have often been violent, and hunting is promoted for economic and “safety” reasons. The Ontario spring bear hunt was previously banned but was recently reinstated, compounding concerns about human-bear conflict and bear management. Today, both human-bear conflict and the stagnation of the northern economy continue, despite increased killing of black bears in the spring hunting season. This thesis considers alternatives to the hunting of bears. Specifically, it assesses bear viewing programs and the added benefits of collaborative environmental agreements and accreditation programs. I explore the potential of these alternative programs to address human-bear conflict, to benefit local settler and indigenous communities, and to reduce resource exploitation in northern Ontario. The thesis is driven by two research questions: (i) what ecotourism policies, strategies, and programs are the most viable for Ontario? (ii) Which policies or programs offer the most potential for fostering solidarity within and across species, as well as economic, social, political, and environmental benefits for northern Ontario communities? I consider these questions by utilizing a combination of targeted, semi-structured interviews and a multispecies reimagining of an Intersectionality-Based Policy Analysis (IBPA) framework. Three industry specialists were interviewed in order to interrogate the policy benefits and limitations of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement, as well as bear viewing programs within the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, and the Great Bear Rainforest. I argue that these programs offer important lessons and models that should be utilized and imitated in northern Ontario in order to transform interspecies relations and mitigate ongoing conflict. The results confirm the educational, cultural, and economic value and importance of guided bear viewing and accompanying habitat protection. This study also reveals areas of possibility and incentive for locales seeking to transition into ecotourism.