State officials explain 'Bear Referendum' opposition

By Larry Di Giovanni | May 17, 2014
Photo by: Larry Di Giovanni Jennifer Vachon, the state's lead bear biologist for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, uses a PowerPoint presentation May 15 at Beaver Lodge in Hope to explain state's opposition to the "Bear Referendum."

Hope — If Maine's “Bear Referendum” passes on the Nov. 4 statewide ballot, “It will cripple our ability to control the bear population.”

That message came May 15 during a bear management presentation at Beaver Lodge offered by Jennifer Vachon, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's lead biologist on black bears and the Canada lynx.

In attendance were numerous hunting group members opposed to the referendum, with one of those groups, Knox County Fish and Game Association, hosting the well-attended event.

The ballot initiative would make it illegal to hunt black bears using bait, hunting hounds, and traps. Yet those are “our most effective methods” for controlling the bear population during fall season hunts, Vachon said.

Bait, hounds, and traps account for more than 90 percent of bears taken and are tightly regulated by Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, according to Vachon. For example, bear baiting, which allows hunters to lure bears closer using anything ranging from jelly doughnuts to beef fat, is limited to four weeks in September. Baiting accounts for 79 percent of successful hunts.

Maine has the largest black bear population in the eastern United States with more than 30,000 — and that population has risen more than 30 percent during the past 10 years, Vachon said. Hunting helps to control the population and thus reduce human-bear conflicts. The state's goal is to see between 3,500 and 4,500 bears culled each year. The average since 2005 has been 2,910.

“There has never been a fatal bear attack in the state,” she noted, while adding that if the referendum passes, “we [will] expect more conflicts.” Inland Fisheries and Wildlife employs 45 wildlife biologists and 124 game wardens who enforce wildlife laws.

A second presentation was given by Don Kleiner, who heads a of coalition of hunting groups known as The Maine Wildlife Conservation Council. Kleiner said the Humane Society of the United States is pushing the referendum with a goal of $3 million in political advertising. To match it, hunting groups need to raise $2.5 million and are close to $1 million already.

The referendum will be fought through television ads that will become prominent after Labor Day, he said. A similar referendum 10 years ago was defeated by a 53-47 margin. This November, many hunters attending the meeting said the tally may be much closer. A Pan Atlantic SMS Group poll in April had opposition to the referendum at at 48.1 percent, 46.7 percent in favor, and 5.3 percent undecided.

Kleiner, who lives in Union and also represents the Maine Professional Guides Association, said monetary support from outside Maine is pouring in to support the referendum. Inside the state, it is negligible.

“All three candidates for governor agree on only one thing: This [referendum] is a bad idea,” Kleiner said.

“It's good to keep healthy harvest on the bear,” said Todd Simmons, a bear hunter from South Thomaston. Hunting guides rely on bear hunting to sustain their incomes, as do restaurants, hotels, and lodges, he added. They stand to lose major revenue if the referendum passes, he said.

A 2004 Inland Fisheries and Wildlife study found that bear hunting contributed more than $70 million yearly to the state economy and supports almost 900 jobs.

“Some day, it [the referendum] is going to pass because there are so many out-of-staters here,” said hunter Philip Morris of Tenants Harbor.

Courier Publications reporter Larry Di Giovanni can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at

Comments (7)
Posted by: Frances Pusch | May 19, 2014 22:01

Is hunting by baiting a sport?  Trapping and hound hunting seems to me cruel.  Is recreational hunting of this type the only way to control the number of bears?  Are there other more humane ways for the IF&W to deal with this problem humans have created? 

Posted by: Judy Olson | May 19, 2014 17:15

Mr. Merriam is right, real men do not hunt bears with donuts. Baiting, trapping, and running down bear with dogs is sick, inhumane, and amounts to torturing animals. This referendum does not propose to eliminate hunting bear. Maybe "hunters" need to go actually "hunt".

Posted by: Judy Olson | May 19, 2014 13:53

Mr. Merriam is right, real men do not hunt bears with donuts. Baiting, trapping, and running down bear with dogs is sick, inhumane, and amounts to torturing animals. This referendum does not propose to eliminate hunting bear. Maybe "hunters" need to go actually "hunt".

Posted by: paula sutton | May 19, 2014 07:08

I also attended this event and was impressed with the presentation of  scientific facts which were compiled by our own State experts.  Decisions need to be made with facts and not feelings.  We should get past our preconceived notions and delve into the reality of what would it be like to have an increase of  bears roaming around  populated neighborhoods and in our children's sandboxes and backyards. 

Posted by: Susan Sinclair | May 17, 2014 17:16

The worst POSSIBLE argument for torturing animals is that the tourist industry might be hurt. WHAT???!!!!

Posted by: Kendall Merriam | May 17, 2014 14:07

Real men don't hunt bears with donuts...

Posted by: Ronald Murray | May 17, 2014 10:51

I attended this presentation at Beaver Lodge this Thursday evening. She is very informative and an excellent biologist. The figures don't lie we really need to defeat this outside attempt that will indeed cripple our abilities to manage our bears in a controlled program. Several other states have banned these methods and have had a very sharp increase in bear and people incounters.  Please support our IF&W and defeat this attempt. It's also a matter of 900 jobs in our economy.

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