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Maine Wildlife Advocates Launch New Bear Hunting Initiative
07/09/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

Opponents of bear baiting, trapping, and hounding announced today they're launching a campaign to end these hunting practices through a citizen referendum. The group Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting plan to put the issue to a vote in November 2014, 10 years after the same issue failed at the ballot box. But those who favor such hunting methods say they're critical to managing Maine's burgeoning bear population. Patty Wight reports.

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Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting is a coalition of local and national organizations that includes the Humane Society of the U.S. and the Wildlife Alliance of Maine, where Daryl Dejoy is executive director. Hunting can be a polarizing issue, so DeJoy wants to be clear that this campaign is not to end bear hunting all together.

"We're just going after the non-fair chase, and what we view as non-ethical ways of hunting bears," he says - practices such as using dogs or traps to make it easier to bag a bear.

And there's even more not to like about baiting, says DeJoy. "The, literally, hundreds of thousands, even millions of pounds of junk food, donuts, candy, rotten meat that are dumped in the woods - these are all pretty biologically indefensible ways of hunting bears," he says, "and they're not necessary."

"The three tools that they're trying to ban are the three most effective bear management tools we have," says David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine. Trahan says just two things have changed since this referendum was first attempted 10 years ago: First, Maine's bear population has grown; second, hunting policies have evolved - for the better.

"And that is, we've improved the ways in which we harvest bears - we've outlawed certain traps to make it more humane," he says.

According to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, there are about 30,000 bears in Maine, and the population has increased 67 percent since 1990. The department gets about 500 nuisance complaints a year, but in 2012, they received 870 complaints.

Doug Rafferty is spokesman for the Department. He says they haven't yet taken a position on the proposed referendum, but he says current management methods are effective.

"At this point in time, we're looking at more bears next year than we had this year, so on and so forth, and we don't really want to really do too much to mess with that equation."

But Daryl DeJoy of the Wildlife Alliance of Maine says he thinks citizens will disagree. Though the referendum failed once before, and efforts to legislate the end of bear trapping, baiting and hounding have failed, DeJoy believes that time is on their side.

"Most issues that push for positive change, whether it be this issue that's talking about how wildlife can be treated, or even a person's right to marry who he or she wants to, require more than one time at the voting booth, historically," DeJoy says.

But first, Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting will need to collect more than 57,000 signatures in the coming months in order to qualify for the ballot in November of 2014.

Photo: Courtesy Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife



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