Once again, as they have consistently done in the past, the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee has killed two bills that would have banned the hounding and trapping of bears, measures opposed as always by the state’s hunting lobby, primarily the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. The committee’s decision is no surprise – after all, many of its members are also members of SAM and two of them sit on its board.
So what happens next? Since approximately 89% of our population do not hunt – though that figure doesn’t necessarily mean they disapprove of fair chase hunting for food- are denied a voice on the committee, they either have to tolerate what they regard as cruelty done in their name and condone practices that tarnish the reputation of our state or they have to muster their resources and act on their beliefs by going to referendum. One thing’s for sure – the 278,000 who voted for last fall’s referendum are too substantial a minority to give up or go away.
Referendum? The “R” word may produce waves of nervous tension not to mention angst and anxiety and thoughts of “here we go again” in the minds of many, but we all know it’s not a question of If – it’s a question of When. But really, do any of us actually prefer expending more time and energy in another contest of wills and financial support with results that, if a few percentage points were subtracted, may well have been within the margin of error as could have been the case last year?
Yet there is a simpler, less expensive, less time consuming and fairer way that, so far as is known, is not often suggested if at all. It’s the modest proposal stated below:
Any legislative Committee that has jurisdiction over a public resource must also have a balance of representation.
And let’s make no mistake – the state’s wildlife is a public resource shared by all, just like our lakes and streams and public lands. Now, how would this proposal affect the IFW Committee? The presiding officers of the House and Senate would appoint legislators to the Committee who represent those who hunt, and those who do not. The latter group might include, for instance, Mainers involved in the care and rehabilitation of animals, ordinary citizens opposed to cruelty, perhaps those who just don’t want a small hunting minority to decide for them – in short, a whole spectrum of opinion that is now effectively excluded from the discussions necessary to represent the views and perspective of all the people. The result would be a balanced representation of all citizens that is far more likely to result in balanced determinations.
Of course, it’s not what the IFW Committee is used to, but change is inevitable. It’s probably the one thing we humans fight for or against the most. Someone once said, “ If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” It’s clearly time to do something different, to try something new, and yet if you think about it, it’s not different or new. It’s called democracy.