(This is the first part of a two part article)
In November 2014, after the bear referendum had been defeated by a margin of less than 3 ½ per cent, many comments and reactions both pro and con were reported by the media. One of the most interesting and revealing was made by George Smith, former Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, and a blogger for the Bangor Daily News.
On November 6, he wrote “Trapping bears and hunting them with hounds are practices that are not supported by a majority of Mainers. If the ballot question had been limited to those two practices, we would have lost. Even many Maine hunters would not have supported us if the referendum had been limited to hounding and trapping.” Lest anyone think that George had suddenly become a friend to animals – he once wrote a two-part blog listing all the creatures both wild and domestic that could be legally killed in Maine – he added the following caveat:
“Please understand that I am not saying there is anything wrong with these practices – only that they make us vulnerable.”
The numbers support George’s opinion. In 2004, bear hunting licenses were sold to 5275 residents. In 2015, that number dropped to 4596. By contrast, non-residents in 2004 bought 6465 bear hunting licenses. In 2015, sales declined to 4769 – an important statistic because non-residents pay $115 for their license as compared to only $26 for residents.
The same ominous trend applies to bear trapping. In 2014 (the same year as the referendum) 602 resident trapping licenses were sold, dropping to 540 last year.
Even more disturbing from an economic point of view was the decrease of non-resident licenses from only 74 in 2014 to 59 last year – an important change because out-of-staters pay $317 as compared to $35 for residents. The meaning was clear, the vulnerability revealed. Fewer non-resident trappers and hunters mean less revenue for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and those who’ve made a business out of what used to be considered a ‘sport.’
Of course, bears are not the only animals that can be legally trapped. The general trapping season which runs from October 30 to December 31, 2016 applies to bobcat, coyote, fox, fisher, marten, mink, muskrat, opossum, otter, raccoon, red squirrel, skunk, and weasel. Here, too, the numbers are plummeting. In 2006, the total of all trapping licenses (including about 150 that were free to Native Americans and residents over 70) was 4926. In 2014, the number dropped to 2981; last year it was 2535. One of the few exceptions in declining hunting/trapping license sales is the nighttime killing of coyotes which increased from 5517 in 2004 to 9740 in 2015.
How to reverse this negative trend? – negative, that is, for those who benefit financially from what’s described as ‘recreational’ trapping, though no one has explained what’s recreational about trapping and killing animals. Most businesses – and MDIFW certainly operates on a business model since it depends in large part on profits generated from the sale of licenses – would hire a consultant, one that would make suggestions and recommendations to stop the downward spiral of income. That’s exactly what MDIFW did. Their choice was Mark Duda of Responsive Management. According to Bonnie Holding, Information and Education Director at the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, this Virginia-based company (talk about out-of-state influence!) was hired (for an undisclosed sum) “to conduct an extensive survey of Maine citizens and create a marketing strategy.” That raises the question -why would a state agency consisting of public employees be interested in a market strategy and what is it they’re selling?
Ms. Holding provided the answer. “Responsive Management was contracted specifically to develop a plan that will raise overall awareness of Maine’s residents of MDIFW’s mission, programs and projects and measurably increase support of and participation in these programs.” One could also argue that Responsive Management was contracted specifically to convince Maine residents that black is white.
For example, here is Mr. Duda’s attempt to alter the perception of trapping:
The public is highly uninformed about trapping. In the absence of information on trapping, the public is free to project onto trapping whatever image first comes to mind. And for much of the public, the image of trapping burned into the American psyche is of a helpless animal doing anything it can to escape a “steel-toothed” trap, including chewing off its own leg.
To persuade us that the above description of trapping is not accurate, Duda suggests that we acquire “ familiarity with trappers, knowledge of beneficial uses of animals harvested through trapping, and knowledge of methods used to make trapping more humane,” a statement which begs the question that since “humane trapping’ as practiced under MDIFW regulations is an oxymoron, how can inhumane methods be more humane except by ending them? Mr. Duda concludes that “ the more information people possess about trapping issues, the more likely they are to approve of trapping.” It seems that Duda’s specialty is manipulating language to make cruelty seem relatively neutral and therefore inoffensive. It’s an old and effective linguistic technique that seeks to conceal and convince rather than reveal and inform. Personally speaking, I have always been dubious about any enterprise that has to resort to euphemisms to ostensibly describe what it does when it really does nothing of the sort, using instead words like “harvest” and “manage “instead of “kill.”
It’s as if we were discussing fields of corn or wheat rather than sentient creatures who want to live as much as we do and who share many of the same emotions. Ironically, the reality that Mr.Duda glosses over is very much like what he regards as the public’s misconception – wild animals (and occasional pets) held fast against their will by the indiscriminate cruelty of a steel trap, afraid, possibly wounded, cold and hungry, waiting, sometimes more than several days, for help only to be executed when the trapper arrives. There’s no way to make a cruel practice like this acceptable to most people except by obscuring what actually happens. Here’s what Mr. Duda doesn’t want you to know (warning: what follows is a series of disturbing graphic images)
At a recent public gathering, a DIFW representative stated “We have excellent biologists in this state. They want to assure the future of trapping.’ Our state officials are therefore on record in support of legalized brutality that produces unspeakable suffering, and which under any other circumstances would be regarded as animal abuse. Since trapping is barbaric, creates very little revenue, and is practiced by so few – 2535 residents in a state population of approximately 1,330,000 – one has to wonder why.
(to be continued)
For more perspectives about Maine’s wildlife and other related matters, tune into a new radio program Into The Wilderness broadcast Tuesday evenings from 8-8:30 on WMPG FM 90.9.