Nearly 80,000 signatures were delivered to the Secretary of State’s office this afternoon – enough, say activists, to get a bear hunting referendum on the ballot this November. The group Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting wants to end the practices of baiting, trapping, and hounding. But opponents of the referendum effort say those methods are effective tools for controlling the bear population, and if taken away would undo decades of successful bear management practices. Patty Wight reports.
The campaign director for Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, Katie Hansberry, delivered the signatures to Augusta in numbers that she says will assure that the issue will be brought before the voters of Maine.
“Based upon the numbers of signatures confirmed valid that we have gotten back from more than 400 cities and towns and all 16 counties, we have well exceeded the required number of valid signatures,” Hansberry said.
According to a map distributed by Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, the majority of those signatures were gathered in areas south of Bangor. Hansberry says her organization doesn’t want to end bear hunting in Maine. It just wants to stop what she calls the egregious practice of baiting, hounding, and trapping.
“Maine has the notorious distinction of being the only state that still allows all three of these unsporting and reckless practices,” she says.
But James Cote, campaign manager for Save Maine’s Bear Hunt, says if there is a national distinction for Maine, it’s for its solid history of successful bear management.
“The proposed initiative would ban mainstreams most effective methods of controlling Maine’s bear population here in the state of Maine,” Cote says, “and would undermine four decades of bear management and research here in the state of Maine, which is nationally recognized.”
Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has monitored the state’s bear population since 1969, and according to a data sheet, had determined that the state’s bear population has increased by 67 percent since 1990. The IF & W reports that at 30,000 bears, Maine has the largest population in the eastern United States.
The department receives an average of 500 nuisance bear complaints each year, but those numbers jumped to almost 900 in 2012. Save Maine’s Bear Hunt’s James Cote says now is not the time to do away with an effective hunting method.
“So we think it’s a really poor precedent for the state to go down this road of managing our natural resources through the ballot box, and not necessarily going with the decisions made by professionals in our state department,” Cote says.
Cote says Save Maine’s Bear Hunt is supported by a number of state organizations, including the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine and the AFL-CIO, as well as the three major candidates for governor.
He points out that Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, on the other hand, is backed largely by the U.S. Humane Society. The most recent campaign finance reports from January show that of $705,000 in cash contributions raised in the last quarter, $700,000 came from the national group.
Save Maine’s Bear Hunt has also received out-of-state donations, albeit much smaller. A bear hunter conservation group in Michigan donated $10,000 and a sportsmen’s group in California donated $5,000.
If the signatures for the referendum are verified by the Secretary of State’s Office, this November will mark the second time in 10 years that Mainers have weighed in on the issue of bear baiting, hounding and trapping.