Bear In Mind

Two important bills about animals will be heard by the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee on Tuesday, May 12 at 1 PM in room 206 of the Cross Office Building adjoining the Capitol in Augusta.

LD 801 (http://legislature.maine.gov/LawMakerWeb/summary.asp?ID=280055372) would prohibit the use of dogs in hunting bears.

LD 887 (http://legislature.maine.gov/LawMakerWeb/summary.asp?ID=280055505) would prohibit the use of dogs and traps in hunting bears.

The first bill is sponsored by Rep. Dillon Bates of Westbrook, the second by Rep. Denise Harlow of Portland. It goes without saying that it’s very unlikely that either of these representatives is also a member of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. That would also probably explain why, unlike most pro-hunting bills, there are no co-sponsors for either LD 801 or LD 887. It also goes without saying that it’s very unlikely that members of the IFW committee are not members of SAM. In fact, at least nine of thirteen are, and two of those actually sit on SAM’s board. You don’t need a crystal ball to know whose interests the committee is likely to represent, but it won’t be the vast majority of Mainers who feel that the state’s wildlife is a public resource and who want animals treated humanely.

Bear baiting is not mentioned in either bill. That may be because while baiting and ambushing a bear while it eats is not fair, at least it’s arguably less cruel. For instance, bear trapping is so brutal and unsporting that Maine is the only state left in the country that still allows it. An animal’s instinct is to break free from these snare traps, which can lead to extensive injuries, and since the traps must be checked only once per day, the bear can be left suffering for hours. Then, when the trapper arrives, the bear is executed at point blank range.

Maine also continues to allow the cruel and savage practice of hounding. Packs of remotely tracked dogs are released to chase a frightened bear often for miles, across all kinds of habitat, including private property. Dogs pursue their target until the exhausted bear climbs a tree to escape and then is shot off a branch. If the bear doesn’t reach a tree in time, a fight will likely result and the bear may be ripped apart by the dog pack and/or the dogs mauled or killed. It’s a page right out of the Dark Ages.

If an animal must be killed, it should done quickly and with as little suffering as possible. Why? Because animals have many of the same emotions as humans, and want to live as much as we do. If you’ve ever been fearful or threatened or hungry, so have they. If you’ve ever felt bereft or stressful or protective, so have they. As the self-described superior species, we owe it to the earth’s creatures as well as to our own best capabilities not to inflict needless pain or substitute indifference and cruelty for compassion.

The composition of the IFW committee practically guarantees that the voice of most of our citizens will not be heard, but the last word ultimately belongs to the people. By going to the hearing on May 12 or by sending in testimony to the committee clerk (Heather.Macklin@legislature.maine.gov) or by logging on to the state legislative website ( http://legislature.maine.gov/) you can express your support for these bills and ask your senator and representative to vote for them when they come to the legislative floor.

Let’s not forget that the bears of our state –if they belong to anyone other than themselves – belong to all of us, and the way they are treated is a powerful statement about the kind of people we are and the values we hold.

Don Loprieno

About Don Loprieno

Don Loprieno is a student of history and a published author.