By V. Paul Reynolds
In the Maine bear referendum battle for public opinion, the first volley has been fired.
Saturday, Aug. 9, the Augusta Civic Center was the gathering place for what was perhaps the biggest fund-raising event in the annals of Maine’s hunting and outdoor sporting community. The Save Maine’s Bear Hunt Super Banquet was just that, super, an unqualified success.
As emcee of the historic event, I had a bird’s eye view of an unbelievable, if not breathtaking, sea of faces. I have never seen anything like it. James Cote, who is heading up the campaign to save Maine bear hunting, estimated the crowd at close to 1,400 people. In attendance were people from all walks of life: bear guides, trappers, outfitters, sportsmen, politicians, and people from far away. (This is double the turnout for a similar event that took place a decade ago to do battle with the same organization over the same issue.)
Maine gubernatorial candidates Mike Michaud, Eliot Cutler and Governor LePage made an appearance, either in person or by video recording. To a man, they all voiced their opposition to the bear referendum and their belief that Maine’s respected scientific wildlife management should not be undermined by animal rights extremists like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
To the delight of the friendly crowd, the three Maine Game Warden “stars” of the TV show North Woods Law made a stage appearance. Wardens Rick LaFlamme, Alan Curtis and Kris MacCabe recounted some of the funny and interesting episodes of North Woods Law seen on Animal Planet.
As one of the speakers, Nick Pinizzotto of the U.S. Sportsman’s Alliance (USSA), put it to the audience.
“You people all get it. You are here and opening your wallets because you know what is at stake this November, not just bear hunting but our whole hunting heritage.”
Pinizzotto then presented a check for $150,000 to James Cote, director of the Maine Wildlife Conservation Council.
And those in attendance opened their wallets, as well, during the silent auction, the gun raffles and the live auction. Most impressive was the quality and quantity of the prizes that had been donated by so many in order to help the Maine Wildlife Conservation Council raise enough greenbacks to help subsidize the television advertising that will be needed to combat the millions of dollars of campaign money that will be spent by the anti-hunting group that is bankrolling the bear referendum.
Throughout the evening, one thing became very clear. This was an energetic, passionate group of folks who are not about to roll over, no matter how much money the HSUS plans to bring to their cause. The esprit de corps was energizing and inspiring.
But, as Dave Trahan, executive director of SAM cautioned, energy and inspiration is not enough. It will take money and hard work to prevail in November and save Maine’s bear hunting. He urged those in attendance to talk to neighbors and friends, non-hunters who vote but don’t truly understand the issue and what is at stake.
Yes, the first volley has been fired. The big guns will begin after Labor Day. To its credit, our side is taking the high road, unlike the opposition. Our central argument is sound. You will see it and hear it in the days ahead: “Trust Our Wildlife Biologists. Vote No on Question No. 1.”