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Maine Bear Hunting Under Fire… Again

By Dave Sartwell, GloucesterTimes.com

January 29, 2014

The Humane Society (HSUS) is attacking the right to hunt black bear in Maine…again. This time HSUS is trying to place on the ballot in this coming November election a question that would eliminate bear hunting with hounds, bait or trapping.

This is about the same question that they put on the ballot in 2004 that was defeated handily by Maine voters.

But HSUS just won’t quit. Understand, this is not a question that is being funded by Mainers. This is an initiative funded and run by this Washington, D.C. based anti-hunting organization.

Using a front group called the Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, this anti-hunting organization has poured over $700,000 in cash and another roughly $100,000 of in-kind support to this effort. This is of the total $705,844 this group has raised so far as reported in their required campaign finance disclosure.

At the present time they are trying to get the 57,000 signatures they need by Feb. 3 to place the question on the ballot. HSUS has already made a deposit of $50,000 to PCI, a Los Angeles-based consulting firm, as part of a $150,000 professional signature gathering effort.

“The recent campaign finance report only demonstrates our concern that this is an initiative being bankrolled by one organization- the Humane Society of the United States- to promote an anti-hunting political agenda and destroy our nationally recognized bear conservation programs at the Maine Department of  Inland Fisheries and Wildlife,” said James Cote, campaign manager for the Maine Wildlife Conservation Council, a coalition of organizations opposing the proposed initiative. “We hope   Maine people will educate themselves about the negative implications that this proposal will have on our state and the real motives behind the HSUS agenda.”

“Our goal is to be the voice of reason in this debate,” Cote said. “Being the voice of reason means building a diverse coalition of a lot of different parties that support our position, and we’ve done that. At this point, we’re going to continue to talk about the real implications of this proposed initiative from a biological and economic standpoint.”

It is important to understand that in Maine their is no bear “problem”. The bear population is nowhere close to being over hunted, in fact, quite the opposite. Since 1990, the bear population has increased by 67 percent to more than 30,000 bears. Maine’s annual bear-hunt harvest has declined 23 percent since 2005. Nuisance bear complaints in Maine increased in 2012 from an average of 500 per year to 870.

In an interview on Talkin’ Maine, Maine bear biologist Jennifer Vashon helped put the bear baiting, hounding and trapping into perspective. She said that these methods are the only practical way to control the population.

“Each year about 3,000 bears are harvested out of an estimated 30,000 bears in the wild. In order to keep the bear population under control,” she stated. “We need to harvest at least 3,500 animals a year. So even with the current methods we are not taking enough each year from the wild.”

“About 80% of the bears taken in Maine are taken over bait,” continued Vashon. “Of those that engage in baiting, only about 25% are successful.”

All bait sites are required to have a sign saying who is baiting. They have to be regularly monitored and cleaned up immediately after the season. About 10,000 hunters a year hunt from a baited station.

There is also a six week hounding season. There are very strict regulations on how the hunts may be conducted. Only one third of starts result in a treed bear. Hunting with hounds accounts for about 300 bears per year.

These two methods of hunting allow a hunter to be very selective. In both baiting and hounding you can see the bear that is being taken in a time period that allows choice. If it is too small or of the wrong sex you can decline the shot.

The trapping season is eight weeks. About 3% of the total kill each year is harvested by trap. Again there are very strict rules on how traps are set, the time frames for tending the traps and where they can be set.

Only about 7% of the total harvest is taken by other methods. Usually the bear is not the main game target by these hunters.

“If we lose these techniques to control the harvest,” Vashon said. “We can not make it up with other methods. The bear population has been increasing over the last ten years. If we can not control the population by hunting we will soon have a population that will cause human/animal conflicts.

Bear hunting is a significant part of our local economy. Hundreds of families rely on guiding hunters for at least part of their yearly income. We have had a wonderful success story. These methods are needed to do that. We need all of these methods to meet our management objectives.”

Bear populations across the country are all increasing as we cut back the methods of hunting. Colorado, Washington, and Oregon have all seen their bear numbers grow at sometimes an alarming rate. The bear conflicts in Colorado have skyrocketed this past year.

Wayne Pacelle, President of HUSU, who, by the way, has a compensation package that pays him roughly $300,000 a year, has used the HSUS as a anti-hunting group for a decade. Only about 1% of their roughly $100 million total budget goes to animal shelters! In fact, Charity Watch, an organization that investigates and rates charities, has given HSUS a “D” grade for spending most of its contributions on overhead and executive salaries, instead of philanthropic work.

Folks in Massachusetts will remember Pacelle as the fellow who used absolutely misleading ads and pictures to get trapping banned in Massachusetts. We are still reaping the benefits of that debacle in our efforts to control the beaver population in the state.


Paid for and Authorized by the Maine Wildlife Conservation Council. PO BOX 5540, Augusta, Maine 04330
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Maine Wildlife Conservation Council
PO Box 5540
Augusta, Maine 04330