Now that bear hunting season is upon us once again, it may be time to review some of the issues that last year’s bear referendum sought to resolve .One of the first was to assure the voters that the goal was not to end hunting but to end cruel hunting. The referendum’s language spoke for itself:
“Do you want to ban the use of bait, dogs or traps in bear hunting except to protect property, public safety or for research?”
Note that it didn’t say “ Do you want to end hunting bears”? Instead, while making an important exception for public safety and protection of property as well as research, three methods of hunting bears would have been prohibited.
.1. Ambushing bears as they eat piles of human junk food set out to attract them.
2. Setting packs of radio-collared dogs to hound a bear to exhaustion, and then shooting it out of tree.
3. Trapping a bear and then executing it at point-blank range, sometimes as much as 24 hours after it’s been struggling to free itself.
Putting out human junk food to lure bears and then shooting them while they eat involves no particular ability on the part of the human, yet, according to Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the so-called ‘success rate’ is relatively low which may be a testament to the intelligence and wariness of the bear as well as the poor skills or bad luck of the hunter.
Baiting particularly goes against common sense and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s own advice not to feed the bears, not to mention that it tends to draw these animals closer to populated areas. No wonder that the bear population has grown from 23,000 in 2004 to more than 30,000 in 2010, with about 500 bear complaints each year.
There’s no hunting or sport involved in trapping or hounding either but that’s exactly what the referendum would have restored – fair chase hunting in place of the cruelty practiced in both those methods.
The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife maintained that all these tools (i.e. traps, dogs, junk food, guns) were needed to ‘harvest’ (i.e. kill) bears and control their population, but DIFW’s views are open to question because of their cozy relationship with the hunting lobby it consistently supports and the revenue which that support produces. They also took a very active, partisan role in last year’s campaign, one that some felt was inappropriate. After all, It was one thing to offer ‘fair comment’ as the law allows; another to blitz the airways with uniformed personnel using scare tactics, all on company time and with the use of public resources.
It’s probable that some of these state employees were also professional guides, hunters or trappers themselves as well as members of other organizations that opposed the referendum. If so, one wonders how they could have been impartial in what was clearly a conflict of interest.
We were also told that jobs would have been lost if the referendum had passed, but that’s not been the case in other states where fair chase hunting has replaced the methods IFW uses now. In fact, the use of guides and their support services would have likely increased.
After banning baiting and hounding, Colorado saw the number of bear hunters triple, Oregon bear tag sales tripled and revenue increased 214 percent, and Washington non-resident license sales increased by 97 percent, while resident license sales shot up by an astonishing 343 percent. There’s no reason to think that Maine would not have seen a similar economic benefit. In addition, Maine’s non-partisan Office of Fiscal Impact had determined that if the referendum had been approved, there would have been no negative effect on state revenue.
As we all know, the referendum was defeated in a close vote, and Maine continues to have the onerous distinction of being the only state that allows baiting, hounding and trapping bears. The issue, however, is not settled. It will return again until the hunt is restored to hunting.
No doubt, the Humane Society of the United States and its thousands of members in the Pine Tree State will be involved and will provide financial support, just as the NRA, Safari Club International, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, the Washington-based Ballot Issues Coalition and other out-of-state organizations did for the opposition – not to mention large infusions of cash from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, the Maine Trappers’ Association, and the Maine Professional Guides Association, all to preserve the status quo and the profit it generates.
The issue of cruelty and unsporting practices instead of genuine hunting will be back. It’s not a question of if. It’s only a question of when.