By James Cote
The Washington-based, well-funded special interest group opposes the hunting of all animals.
AUGUSTA — It’s well known that Maine voters are an independent lot who place a high value on fairness and transparency during the campaign season.
On Nov. 4, those same voters will make some important choices. We will choose who should be the state’s next governor, we will choose a senator and we will choose between congressional candidates in both the 1st and 2nd districts, not to mention electing 186 members of the Maine Legislature.
Now imagine that one of those candidates was receiving 99 percent of their campaign funding from an out-of-state special interest group. It would be on the front page of every major newspaper – every week.
That is exactly what is happening with Question 1 on the Maine ballot, a referendum that, if passed, would put an end to one of the best bear management programs in the country and undermine 40 years of nationally recognized research at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Since June 2013, the Washington, D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States has contributed more than $1.6 million to the campaign, according to Maine Ethics Commission campaign finance reports.
This war chest of campaign funds will allow the Humane Society to do what it does best: Buy loads of television air time to distort the record and further push its national agenda to eventually outlaw all forms of recreational hunting.
And you don’t have to look much further than the current position statement on the Humane Society website: “As a matter of principle, The HSUS opposes the hunting of any living creature for fun, trophy, or sport because of the animal trauma, suffering, and death that result. A humane society should not condone the killing of any sentient creature in the name of sport.”
But what does this mean for Maine?
A 2004 study showed bear hunting contributes more than $60 million to Maine’s economy with more than 900 jobs. If the Humane Society of the United States has its way, roughly 200 small mom-and-pop businesses will cease to exist.
If HSUS is successful, Maine will lose jobs and our fragile economy will take another blow.
That probably doesn’t matter much to a Washington-based special interest group, but it matters a lot to the hardworking people of rural Maine.
It’s not surprising that more than 99 percent of the proponent’s money is coming from outside Maine.
Beyond the severe economic impacts it would create, this referendum would also cripple the ability of state biologists and game wardens to effectively and professionally manage Maine’s bear population.
Maine’s bear management program is nationally recognized, and its objectives and guidelines are driven by public input from people right here in Maine, not Washington. In fact, regulated hunting is the only way to humanely meet goals set by public employees. And our current hunting methods favor bear, since only 30 percent of bear permits result in a harvest.
An elimination of Maine’s successful bear hunting practices will also lead to more dangerous bear-human interactions.
In 2012, there were roughly 870 nuisance-bear complaints statewide. In 2013, Kennebunk schools kept children indoors because of bear sightings in the area. And in the state of New York, lawmakers are now considering legalizing the use of bait, hounds and traps to hunt bears because of nuisance complaints.
Despite raising a war chest of campaign funding from out-of-state donors, the HSUS has not fooled very many people in Maine.
In fact, all three gubernatorial candidates – independent Eliot Cutler, Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud – oppose this misguided referendum. They are joined by a growing coalition of voices that includes the Maine AFL-CIO, the Maine Tourism Association, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, and Maine’s biologists and game wardens.
Never in Maine history have we seen such a diverse and distinguished group of policy leaders unite behind a position like this one. The “No on 1″ campaign is one for Maine people to be proud of, and extends far beyond traditional partisan boundaries.
Two questions are vitally important to ask: Can your vote be bought and paid for by a special interest group in Washington?
And who do you trust more: Maine’s wildlife biologists and game wardens or those special interest donors in Washington? If you agree that Maine’s biologists and game wardens should be trusted with the management decisions to protect our safety and our wildlife, join our tremendous coalition and vote “no” on Question 1 in November.