Bear hunting or what?
In November, Maine voters will address yet another bear hunting referendum. This referendum asks voters to ban the hunting of bear using bait or dogs. However, Mainers should be asking themselves some questions. Is there a problem with Maine’s bear population and thus a need to better control the harvesting of these animals, and is the issue really about baiting and dogs, or is it about hunting in general?
Maine has the largest bear population in the eastern United States. There are an estimated 30,000 black bears in the state and that represents a 30 percent increase over the last 10 years. Maine’s wildlife biologists have determined that 3,500 to 4,500 bears need to be harvested each year to keep the population at the current level. The average harvest rate for the last 10 years under the current hunting rules has been about 2,900, with about 3,200 harvested last year. These numbers suggest the bear population will continue to increase and potentially increase dramatically even under current hunting rules.
With an increasing bear population there is a corresponding increase in human–bear encounters. These encounters range from just frightened children and parents to property damage from foraging bears and finally to human injury or death. There are about 500 encounters in Maine each year and there are signs they are increasing. Examples of recent such encounters were relatively easy to find in a search of the Bangor Daily News: “Game Wardens Trying to Catch Nuisance Bear Spotted at Princeton Elementary School” May 22, 2014; “Black Bears Spotted in Bangor Area, Game Warden Says” May 27, 2014; and “Mother Bear, Cub Spotted in Bangor” June 3, 2014. There does seem to be a developing problem with the bear population, but it is not one of an endangered population, but one of an increasing population. Further restrictions on the hunting methods are likely to cause an increase in population, which will further increase human–bear conflict.
Is the use of baiting techniques and dogs in bear hunting an illegitimate form of harvesting? There might be an interesting parallel in another form of “hunting” that is a major industry in Maine, that is near and dear to the heart and soul of Maine, the lobster industry. Interestingly, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has in the past made an issue about this industry too. Tons and tons of baitfish are harvested each year to provide bait for the Maine lobster fishermen and women. The bait is then used to lure unsuspecting lobster to their doom. Bears are foraging animals and thus almost any form of something edible will lure them into the open where a hunter can access them. Sophisticated electronics have become commonplace in the lobster industry to enhance the ability to find and trap their prey. Dogs are used in the hunt for bear to improve the chance of a hunter harvesting a bear. To suggest that the lobster industry is using unfair and cruel techniques would be absurd. It would seem that the same conclusion should be made about bear hunting.
A more troubling aspect of the bear hunting referendum is the issue itself. The issue comes to us from special interest groups outside of the State of Maine. The Humane Society of the United States is the principle motivator behind the referendum in Maine. They are devoting multiple millions of dollars to the referendum. Why? The HSUS president, Wayne Pacelle, is an avowed anti-hunting advocate. Since taking over as president in 2004, Mr. Pacelle has brought many anti-hunting activists onto the staff at HSUS, many of them from PETA. When researching HSUS itself, one finds their list of accomplishments as limiting various hunting activities in many different states. The agenda of HSUS can easily be seen as a step toward limiting hunting activity in Maine.
The referendum this November will be the second time that HSUS has been successful in placing this question on the Maine ballot. The strategy seems to be that they will keep repeating the effort until successful. Hunting methods and regulation in Maine is a Maine issue and should be initiated and dealt with by Maine people. Voters should reject this effort by HSUS and other outside groups who are pouring millions of dollars into what is none of their business.