For the second time in a decade, the methods used by bear hunters in Maine are being challenged by animal rights groups.
Ten years ago, Maine voters rejected a measure that would have outlawed baiting, trapping and the use of hounds to hunt black bears. The groups leading the charge, Mainers For Fair Bear Hunting and The Humane Society of the United States, recently announced they’ll gather signatures to get the question on next year’s ballot, calling those methods cruel and unnecessary.
“These three practices are really the lazy man’s way of hunting and have no place in responsible wildlife management,” said Katie Hansberry from Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting.
A coalition opposed to the proposed referendum called the Maine Wildlife Conservation Council held a press conference on Monday. It includes the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and the Maine Professional Guides Association. Chandler Woodcock, Commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said managing Maine’s black bear population should be left up to state biologists, not “a group of well-funded, out of state activists.”
“This referendum is not about one method over another. It is about outlawing the most effective methods we have for controlling the bear population. These methods account for over 90% of our bear harvest annually,” Woodcock said at Monday’s press event.
Maine has an estimated 30,000 black bears and more than 3200 were killed last year by hunters. If this measure passes, a state black bear biologist says that number could drop to less than 1,000.
“Without these management tools, we expect the number of human bear encounters to increase substantially resulting in an increase risk of property damage and human injury,” said David Trahan. Executive Director of The Sportsman’s Aliiance of Maine.
Hansberry disagrees with that premise, arguing the practice of baiting bears is a major cause of human-bear encounters. She says “independent bear biologists” recognize that bear baiting creates nuisance bears which lead to more human-bear encounters.
“The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife every year we’ll hear them telling people not to feed the bears in an attempt to reduce bear-human conflict. It’s really inconsistent and they need to stop perpetuating the practice of feeding bears on a much grander scale that they’re doing through baiting.”
State black bear biologist, Jen Vashon, says Maine needs all of these methods to meet the bear harvest objectives, due to the dense woods, which make it nearly impossible for still-hunters to even see a bear.
“About 7% of people who still-hunt and stalk are successful harvesting a black bear,” Vashon said.
In order to get the measure on the ballot, proponents will need to gather more than 50,000 signatures. Their campaign to get those signatures is expected to start this week.