By V. Paul Reynolds
Well, we can heave a sigh of relief. Maine bear hunting, as we know it, survived Round Two of another well-funded and well-organized assault from the antihunting factions of this country.
Who is “we”? Bear guides and outfitters? Yes, they make up part of the “we.” But there is more to it. Much more. Although this fact didn’t get much media traction during the pre-election debate, all sportsmen had a stake in the outcome of this recent bear referendum vote. So did many other Maine citizens who may not even call themselves sportsmen.
Our hunting tradition itself was on the line. There was also the little-discussed economic component: bear hunting is a significant contributor to the economic well being of our rural economy.
Over 200,000 people hunt in Maine each year, and those hunters generate over $200 million in direct sales, supporting business such as restaurants, gas stations, sporting goods stores, motels and other small family owned businesses.
According to the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, hunters in Maine spent $98 million on food, lodging and transportation in Maine.
Hunters spent an additional $60 million on equipment such as firearms, ammunition, hunting clothes, and other items; and $40 million on magazines, membership dues, permits, licenses and other related items. Maine’s annual bear hunt represents a big slice of the aforementioned economic pie.
During the first bear referendum a decade ago, then-Governor John Baldacci disallowed the use of uniformed wardens or biologists in TV commercials. This time around, thankfully, neither Governor LePage nor the folks at DIF&W, were similarly constrained or misdirected in their priorities. They got it. They understood at the outset, not only the significant economic stakes in this contest, but the crippling blow that the bear hunting ban would have dealt to Maine’s nationally recognized bear management program.
The Department is to be commended, not scolded, as it was by some northern Maine newspaper editorialists. DIF&W’s various spokesmen were effective opponents of the bear hunting ban. Both the game wardens and the biologists were a credit to their uniforms and their professions, conducting themselves with dignity and measured rhetoric.
The irony is that, when it came to the press, sportsmen had to look south to find an unequivocal media ally. In their editorial arguments on the bear referendum, it was the urban newspapers of southern Maine, the Portland Press Herald and the Kennebec Journal, that distinguished themselves when it came to editorializing about the bear referendum. Both of these newspapers opposed the bear hunting ban unequivocally, with editorials that were comprehensive, clear, strong, and well-argued.
Finally, sportsmen owe a debt of gratitude to James Cote, the very capable director of the Maine Conservation Council, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM), the Maine Professional Guides Association (MPGA), the Maine Trappers Association, as well as a multitude of individuals and state fish and game clubs, all of whom worked hard and opened their wallets to save Maine’s bear hunting heritage.