By Alan Covel
I am writing in response to the York Weekly’s editorial about the bear hunting referendum. I am a Maine hunter, and yes, I hunt bears. I take great offense to some animal rights group from Massachusetts, and an editor from a newspaper telling me I’m unethical and inhumane. I take great pride in being a responsible hunter. I have a young son who is also a hunter, and loves to go hunting with me. I teach him ethics and sportsmanship, I teach him to follow all game laws and respect the animals we hunt, as well as the land we hunt on. He is growing up to be a better man because of time spent hunting with his Dad.
The editor is uncomfortable with hearing from Maine game wardens and biologist on TV ads that are against Question 1. Why would we not want to hear from the experts that have studied bears in Maine for over 40 years? The state of Maine has the most respected wildlife biologist team in the country. Randy Cross, the head of a team of Maine biologists, has studied bears in Maine for 32 years. He has handled over 8,000 bears in his career and crawls into over 80 dens a year to study and radio collar bears. He is an expert when it comes to bears and he is against Question 1. The Maine game wardens are the ones who have to balance protecting bears and protecting the public. They are the ones that have to remove or shoot nuisance and dangerous bears. Why would we not want to hear their side? The newspaper editor also says that shooting bears over bait is like shooting fish in a barrel. If that were true why do only 30 percent of bait hunters go home successful? Even while using bait, 70% of bear hunters are unsuccessful. . . fish in a barrel? With the state of Maine being the most forested state in the country, it’s difficult at best for a hunter to sneak through the woods and see a wary black bear, let alone get a clear shot. You can’t shoot what you can’t see. That’s why “still” hunting (sneaking in the woods) amounts to only 7 percent of the bears harvested in Maine. Hunting bears without bait in Maine will not control their numbers.
States that have approved similar referendums such a Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Colorado are having big problems with bears. In Massachusetts bear conflicts have doubled. Bear hunting was banned in New Jersey and the bear population exploded. As a result, there were an average of 2,000 conflicts between bears and humans each year, and an average of 100 homes were entered by bears in search of food. New Jersey spends more than 1 million dollars a year to inform residents how to avoid bear conflicts. When New Jersey reopened its bear hunt in 2010, bear/human conflicts declined by 50%. In Oregon and Colorado more than 350 bears are killed each year in bear/human conflicts. In some Colorado towns bear complaints are the number one call to police departments. Currently in Maine with our existing hunting program, and many more bears living here, each year less than 12 bears are killed in conflicts with people. If it’s not broken, why fix it?
Make no mistake this is not a Maine hunters against Maine hunters referendum. This is an out of state animal rights group telling Maine what is right and wrong for Maine. The Humane Society of the United States (HUSUS), a Washington based multi-million dollar group, is behind this referendum. Without them there would be no referendum. HSUS is funding 96 percent of the campaign to stop Maine bear hunting. Katie Hansberry, the campaign director for Mainers for Fair Hunting, is a Massachusetts lawyer and an employee of HSUS. She is speaking for a Washington animal rights group, not Maine hunters. HSUS likes to say they are for fair hunting in Maine, but that’s not the truth. They are against all forms of hunting. They don’t even want your kids to fish. The animal rights people don’t want to hear what the expert wildlife biologists have to say here in Maine either, they are threatening them with bodily harm. Some of the biologists are now being escorted by armed game wardens for protection because of threats they have received. I guess it’s ok to shoot a biologist but not a bear!?
Bear hunting in Maine will end if this bill passes; 93 percent of all bears harvested in Maine are harvested with the methods that will be banned. There will just be no way of enough success if the methods we use now are taken away. Bears will be forced to regulate their own numbers with starvation, fights amongst themselves, diseases, and car collisions. Bears will move closer to city limits and there will be more human/bear conflicts.
As far as the economic impact on Maine a new study prepared for the Maine Office of Tourism states that bear hunting has a significant impact on Maine’s economy, especially in northern rural parts of the state, where economic opportunities are few. According to this study, bear hunters spend $53 million dollars in Maine each year. Sporting camp owners are going to lose 40 – 50 percent of total income if they lose bear hunting. This is just one of the reasons all three candidates running for governor, Republican, Independent and Democrat are against Question 1.
People should make up their own minds with informed decisions. Listen to the experts. Go to mefishwildlife.com and read why the Maine Fish and Game Department is against this bill. For the good of the bears and the people living with them, vote NO on Question 1.