Statement by U.S. Senator Angus King
Maine Bear Referendum
The general debate in Maine over bear hunting, as well as the finer points of baiting, dogs, and traps, is a state issue which does not—and should not–involve the federal government. These decisions have always and should continue to be made by the Maine Legislature or Maine voters, through a referendum.
While I will not be involved in this decision in my capacity as a U.S. Senator, I can share my personal opinion as someone familiar with the issue. I believe that bear hunting plays an important role in preserving a healthy and sustainable bear population and that the traditional hunting practices we currently allow are reasonable given the nature of hunting bears in Maine’s dense forests.
As Governor, I worked closely with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) to promote both wildlife conservation and opportunities for sportsmen, and as a result became very familiar with the issues surrounding bear hunting. Though it may surprise you, I have found that these two interests usually go hand-in-hand: sportsmen rely on sound conservation efforts to ensure that there will be game to hunt for generations to come, and conservation efforts often depend on sportsmen to help keep animal populations at sustainable levels. Bear hunting in Maine is no different–hunters support conservation because it preserves their long-standing traditions, and MDIFW conservationists recognize that bear hunters help keep the population from growing to unhealthy levels.
While I understand that bear hunting is an emotional issue for many people, I believe that decisions like this must be based on the current and comprehensive science: input from biologists and other experts in the state should guide the debate. Currently, MDIFW estimates the Maine bear population to be 30,000 and growing – making it one of the largest in the Eastern United States. If this growth is not properly managed, we run the risk of increased disease and starvation within the bear population. Last year there were over 500 nuisance bear complaints in Maine, if we further restrict bear hunting, the number of conflicts between bears and people will likely increase.
We also must consider the economic impact of bear hunting regulations on rural communities. Hunting and sport fishing have been a valuable part of the Maine economy since Cornelia “Fly rod” Crosby became the first Maine Guide over 100 years ago. This is not just a wildlife issue; it is matter of economic justice. Hundreds of Mainers depend on bear hunting for their livelihood. Restricting or banning bear hunting will close businesses and cost many Mainers a source of income, injuring some already-struggling rural communities.