05/08/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 07/07/2012 05:12 EDT

Public at risk as Ontario scales back prevention of bear attacks, union says

TORONTO - A union leader says Ontario residents face greater danger from bears this year because of provincial government cutbacks.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union president Smokey Thomas says the number of staff trained to deal with bears that threaten public safety has been cut by more than half.

Thomas says changes to the Bear Wise education and response program are among what he terms ill-advised cuts at the Ministry of Natural Resources.

The ministry has 21 technicians in 15 northern Ontario communities, down from 48 in 25 communities.

Ministry cuts mean they will no longer set traps, relocate bears, or make on-site visits to landowners who are having conflicts with bears.

Thomas says the Liberals are way off base with claims that government can take this step.

"Bears don't read MNR education materials or heed no trespassing signs," Thomas said. "Cutting experts out of the mix is hardly the answer."