On the face of it, it seems like a good idea – a wildlife management initiative comprised of a wide perspective of Maine citizens and organizations who would confer on a broad range of issues and reach a consensus acceptable to all. It would also be a tacit recognition that the animals who inhabit our state are a public resource, not a private preserve.
The Bangor Daily News agreed, and on October 28, published an editorial entitled “”Maine’s Chance to Reconsider Bear Trapping and Hounding Without Referendum” which stated in part:
“Maine has a growing black bear population, and it has a human population with a heightened interest in how the state manages them. Last year, an unsuccessful ballot question that sought to ban bear baiting, hounding and trapping brought Maine’s most common bear hunting methods into focus. This year, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is starting work on a new 15-year management plan for the state’s big game species, including the black bear.
In broad strokes, the plan will establish the state’s population objectives for each of the four big-game species — moose, deer, turkeys and bears — and the approach it will use to manage them. The planning process is also DIF&W’s chance to gauge public opinion on these big game species and the methods hunters can use to bag them.
With bears specifically, this round of management planning is the agency’s opportunity to reach a consensus, which could be key to preventing another referendum battle over bear hunting methods that have gone before voters twice in the past 11 years.. .
This year, one encouraging element of DIF&W’s approach to big game management planning is its commitment to collecting detailed public opinion on a variety of big game management issues.
‘The questions will run the gamut from what’s your perspective on the current population size of bears in the state, right to opinions on management methods,’ Nate Webb, special projects biologist for DIF&W, said. “Our goal is to be responsive to what the public wants and incorporate that into the management of each species to the extent that we can.’ . . .
. . .Last year’s Question 1 failed at the polls, but the vote was close, and there’s reason to think the initiative would have been successful if it targeted only bear trapping and hounding. The management planning process DIF&W is undertaking is the public’s chance to weigh in again on bear hunting in a more constructive and detailed way and for the state’s wildlife managers to take into account what they hear”
Why does this idea hold promise? Because other methods of representing the public in animal management issues have failed. Passing legislation to eliminate cruel hunting practices is a joke because of the way our representatives and senators are influenced by the state’s powerful hunting lobby. The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee has thirteen voting members, of whom at least nine and possibly more are either members of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine or highly rated by that organization. Two committee members, in fact, serve on SAM’s executive board and one is also a former Commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. It is not unusual for a former Commissioner to serve on the committee and sometimes the other way around, in what amounts to a kind of revolving door. The present head of DIFW, Chandler Woodcock, was a member of the committee, as was David Trahan, now Executive Director of SAM. Since the hunting/trapping lobby dominates the committee, the result is lots of representation for them, and none for anyone else, not to mention what is clearly is a classic example of conflict of interest
But that’s not all. Last year, Eighty-four state legislators were endorsed by SAM for re-election. With the combination of a packed IFW committee and most other legislators favorably inclined toward SAM’s agenda, it’s no wonder that proposals to ban cruel hunting practices get shot down on a no-surprises- here basis.
The problem is underscored by the public testimony of John M. Glowa, Sr. of China, Maine on behalf of two bills that opposed the trapping and hounding of bears:
“For the record, I am a 7th generation Mainer. For decades, I and many other Mainers have banged our heads against the political wall built by state government in our attempts to get the legislature, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Governor to acknowledge that Maine’s fish and wildlife belong to everyone . . . It is a travesty that some 70% of this committee belongs to the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine when less than 2% of Mainers belong to that organization. It is an embarrassment to this state that only two of the eighty some wildlife related bills this legislative session promote preserving rather than killing wildlife . . .”
Needless to say, both bills, like similar ones in the past, were voted ONTP (Ought Not To Pass) by the committee.
That leaves the citizen initiative process which was intended to redress legislative logjams, and, as we know from last year, even that measure was attacked by the hunting lobby in an attempt to sabotage the last remedy to collusion and inaction.
The initiative is an effective safeguard against political roadblocks, but getting a referendum on the ballot involves a great deal of time, work and money. If there’s another way to achieve the same results, it should be considered, and that’s the promise of DIFW’s management plan – until, that is, one examines the composition of its steering committee, how and why its members were selected, and whether they offer balanced representation to all citizens. We will take a closer look at that situation in Part Two.
To be continued . . . . .