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September 24, 2013

Maine Voters: Don’t Take the Bait

Yesterday, in Maine, the trophy hunting and trapping lobby trotted out endorsements from politicians opposing our effort to ban the unsporting and reckless practices of bear baiting, hounding and trapping. The positions of those politicians, generally speaking, have nothing to do with the merits of the issue, but are founded in their belief that they’ll curry favor with these special interests by showing fealty to them.

For years, politicians in Louisiana and New Mexico defended cockfighting. In Newfoundland, politicians defend seal killing. In Nebraska, they defend gestation crates. We’ve been down this road before. It’s the same political posturing, just different forms of animal cruelty.

Black Bear - iStockIf the politicians of Maine were with us in halting reckless trophy hunting practices, we wouldn’t need to do an initiative petition. We’ve reached this point precisely because these officials won’t look at the merits, or because their views are so jaded by the pressure and false arguments of those special interests pulling the strings. That’s why our coalition is seeking to put this issue on the statewide ballot and give all Maine voters a say.

It’s also no surprise that this initiative has drawn the opposition of people who make handsome profits by violating the principles of sportsmanship and setting up or participating in all-but-guaranteed trophy hunts – specifically, the professional guides and other bear baiters. They don’t want to admit that their motives are entirely selfish. Instead, they try to attach some wildlife management rationale and public service to their trashy practice of dumping food out into the woods and then shooting bears who have their heads buried in a mound of jelly doughnuts and rotting meat parts.

Let me make three points about baiting, which is the central issue of this campaign:

First, dumping food out in the woods in massive piles is at odds with almost every modern precept of wildlife management. As a nation, we banned baiting for waterfowl. We banned baiting for almost all deer, elk, and other large, hunted mammals. Baiting of bears is a relic of our nation’s awful mistreatment of predators.

When you go to any national forest, national park, or other public land area with bears, you see signs to “never feed bears.” Why would we ask every forest-user to follow this advice except the people who dump out the most food and want to kill bears for their heads? It makes no common sense; it’s explained only by politics and greed.

Second, bear baiters dump millions of pounds of food into the woods during the most important food-gathering period of the year – in the weeks and months before the bear’s long period of winter dormancy. One Maine bear baiting guide brags that he puts out 200,000 pounds of food in August and September. Think of the thousands of bait sites throughout Maine, with enormous volumes of food in the weeks and months before bears hibernate. These millions of pounds of food supplements, in addition to naturally available food, increase fat reserves and cause bears to produce more young and to allow cubs to survive. That’s a basic biological principle, and this reality undercuts their phony argument that baiting is needed to control the population.

Frankly, it’s a farce for these people to say that baiting will reduce human-bear conflicts and keep down populations – when it does precisely the opposite.

The only way these crazy arguments would be saved is if baiting were absolutely essential for hunting bears. But we know it’s not.

Colorado, Washington, and Oregon all prohibited baiting and hounding about 20 years ago and the number of bear hunters has risen significantly in all three states by an average of 289 percent. Bear take has increased in these states as well.

Reporting on the effects of prohibiting bear baiting and hounding, the state fish and wildlife agency in Colorado said, “[T]he passage of the 1992 initiative has had no detectable adverse effects on bear hunting or bear management in Colorado. It has shown clearly that a black bear population can be efficiently and effectively managed without recourse to bait, hounds, or spring season. Hunters have learned to effectively hunt and harvest bears without using these methods and the Colorado Division of Wildlife has seen a significant increase in revenue resulting from increased interest in bear hunting.” 

The baiters and their allies make the argument that Maine’s woods are so dense that the state is different from all others. It’s no surprise that we’ve heard this same argument in every other state that has considered bans on bear baiting, including in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. All one has to do is walk through the forests of western Oregon and Washington and you’ll see that the forests there are much more dense than those in Maine. And in terms of eastern forests, both New York and Pennsylvania, with more temperate climates and denser vegetation, both have successful bear hunts and both ban baiting, hounding and trapping.

Maine is an outlier when it comes to bear management, and when it comes to these three cruel and unsporting methods. We hope to give Maine voters the opportunity in 2014 to rid the state of these irresponsible and unfair practices.

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