On Tuesday, I was canvassing with Question 1 supporters in Augusta, Maine, and today I am door-knocking in Waterville, another central Maine community. Last night I was with our state director, Katie Hansberry, in Caribou and Presque Isle, small towns in the far north and east of Maine, near the border with Canada. Both are considered to be rural communities that might have suspicions about the motives of Question 1, the ballot initiative to ban baiting, hounding and trapping of bears for sport or trophies. Yet, as we've found, there are so many wonderful, caring people working on the ballot measure, motivated solely by their interest in protecting bears and Maine's reputation of animal welfare and sportsmanlike hunting. And they are all over the state.
I feel quite comfortable reaching people anywhere and everywhere in Maine with our message of compassion and our convictions about setting reasonable restrictions on cruel and unsporting methods of bear hunting. There's nothing extreme about our message or goals, but there is something extreme and distressing about a bear-hunting program that allows trophy hunters to shoot fed, trapped or treed bears. These practices stack the deck so badly in favor of trophy hunting that the animals have very little chance.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is waging an overreaching, illegal campaign to defeat Question 1, bringing into sharp focus the issue of whether state governments should be using public resources to influence elections. The state's bear biologists at the DIFW have developed the nation's most reckless, unsporting and inhumane bear-hunting program, and they are fighting tooth and claw to defend their decision to do what no other state does: allow all three of these extreme hunting methods.
Their hunting program has generally been a dud with hunters in the state. The number of Maine hunters pursuing bears has been declining, and only three percent of them buy bear licenses. The hunt has mainly been structured to benefit a small number of guides and outfitters who offer guaranteed kills of bears to fee-paying trophy hunters from out of state. For example, these quotes are straight from Maine trophy-hunting websites:
"GUARANTEED MAINE BLACK BEAR HUNT ... The kill rate has been 80% in recent years." – Powderhook Outfitters
"‘Guaranteed Hunt' – If you schedule this hunt and don't see a bear to shoot, you can return next season for free." – PB Guide Service
"We strongly encourage youth hunting - children are always welcome at Cedar Ridge." – Cedar Ridge Outfitters
It's amazing that even as beech bark disease has claimed so many trees that produce mast that bears need to thrive, the bear population has increased 30 percent in the last decade. The only logical explanation is that the state allows these guides to set up perhaps upwards of 5,000 bait sites (mounds of jelly doughnuts, pizza, molasses and meat scraps) throughout the Maine woods, supplementing the natural foods for bears and artificially growing their population.
Just as Louisiana citizens said no to cockfighting and South Dakotans said it's time to adopt felony-level penalties for animal cruelty, making them the last states to get on board with those reforms, it's time for Mainers to end the Pine Tree State's ignominious distinction of being the last state in the nation to tolerate all three of these unfair, inhumane bear-hunting methods. They benefit a small number of guides at the expense of rank-and-file Maine hunters, wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts, animal advocates, and all other residents of Maine who want to see animals treated responsibly, fairly and humanely.
Remember, Maine was the first state in the nation to adopt an anti-cruelty law. And it had a great governor, Percival Baxter, who was a friend to all animals and a model for enlightened action by elected officials when it comes to animal welfare policy. It's time for the state to reclaim its leadership position on the proper and decent care of animals, including the wild ones.
Paid for with regulated funds by the committee of Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, PO Box 15367, Portland, ME 04112.