Do not be misled by bear referendum wording

Gerry Lavigne, Special to The County
9 years ago

The wording for the bear referendum which will be Question 1 on the November 4, 2014 ballot in Maine appears simple enough. Please don’t be fooled into believing that a “Yes” vote can promise more than it can deliver. Here’s the exact language: “Do you want to ban the use of bait, dogs or traps in bear hunting except to protect property, public safety, or for research.”    According to the proposed legislation behind this question, here are some of the ways you may be misled by this simple question. The use of the word “or” between dogs and traps is not multiple choice. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you as a voter can somehow choose which of these three hunting methods to ban. A “Yes” vote will ban all hunting of bears in Maine using bait and dogs and traps — all three methods, period.
The second half of Question 1 is even more misleading: “in bear hunting except to protect property, public safety, or for research.” Again, the legislation behind this question prohibits all bear hunting scenarios where bait, dogs and traps would be used by licensed recreational bear hunters. There are really no exceptions for licensed hunters, or the general public relating to the use of baits, dogs, and traps for legally killing or even relocating bears.
The legislation does allow the use of baits, dogs, and traps to protect property, public safety, or for research, but it restricts these methods solely to state and federal employees. If you are currently a hunter, do not expect you will ever again be allowed to hunt bears over bait, with dogs, or with traps, unless you are employed by the DIFW as a nuisance control agent. And if you are a homeowner experiencing problems with marauding bears, you will not be legally authorized to kill or relocate an offending bear using bait, with dogs, or with traps of any kind. You will need to apply to IFW, and get them to respond to your problem – possibly at a financial cost to you.
The unintended consequences if this referendum passes include:
• A ban on baiting, dogs, and traps will result in chronic under-harvest of Maine’s bear population. These methods currently account for 93 percent of annual bear harvests and are the most effective methods of controlling Maine’s large bear population.
• The only remaining legal bear hunting method, still-hunting, cannot come close to making up the difference, for a number of reasons. Bears are wary, and rarely seen by hunters in Maine. Our forests are dense and visibility is limited. A hunter cannot harvest what he or she cannot see.
• Loss of up to 93 percent of current harvest will greatly accelerate bear population growth. Maine’s bear population will increase dramatically, until the population exceeds the availability of its natural food supply.
• Over-abundant, hungry bears will seek alternate sources of food near human habitation. Expect bears to extend their range to include every Maine town.
• The loss of contact with hunters, along with hunger, will diminish a bear’s natural fear of man. Expect this expanded bear population to be far more menacing to people, whether you are located on the fringe of the big woods, or well within a suburban housing development in southern Maine.
• Negative interactions with bears will increase to levels far above what we now experience. This includes crop and garden damage, depredations on pets and livestock, invasions of homes, garages, and campsites in search of food, and attacks on people.
• To respond to increased threats to property and public safety, DIFW will be forced to greatly expand its bear nuisance control program; in addition, municipalities and homeowners will be forced to pay for nuisance bear control.
• Loss of bear baiting and the use of hounds will decimate Maine’s bear guiding industry. Loss of bear guiding revenue will put many outfitters out of business entirely. Passage of this referendum will transition the black bear from a $50-$60 million annual asset to Maine’s economy to a multi-million dollar state government liability.
• Hunting opportunity for deer and moose may be negatively impacted. Black bears are important predators of young fawns and calves. An expanded bear population will result in higher losses to deer and moose.
For all of the above reasons, whether you are a hunter or non-hunter, a ban on the use of baiting, dogs, and traps for bear hunting will adversely impact you at some time, and in some way. Question 1 is bad for Maine. Please vote “No” on Question 1 on Nov. 4, 2014.
 Gerry Lavigne worked as the head deer biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and now works as a consulting biologist.