Bear referendum opponents urge voters to rely on their brains, not their hearts

Kathy McCarty , Special to The County
9 years ago

Bear referendum opponents urge voters
to rely on their brains, not their hearts

Question 1 on November’s ballot, “Do you want to ban the use of bait, dogs or traps in bear hunting except to protect property, public safety, or  for research,” will be a hot topic for both sides of the issue up until the last vote is cast. Those seeking a “no” vote believe science, not emotion, should be the determining factor and that these methods are the most effective in managing the bear population.
“The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife continues to say that these are the most humane and effective methods we have to hunt bears and control the population. As sportsmen, we know that they are an important piece of our outdoor heritage,” said James Cote, director of Defeat the Bear Referendum Campaign.
Cote, of Farmington, said researchers all over the country utilize these techniques to study and monitor bears.
“The bottom line is that Mr. Pacelle (Wayne Pacelle, president/CEO of the Humane Society of the United States) is trying to trick Maine voters into thinking that the ‘Yes on 1’ campaign is something that it isn’t. His organization, the HSUS, is the most extreme anti-hunting organization in the country. They have almost entirely bankrolled the Yes on 1 campaign. I don’t think people will buy his Washington, D.C., propaganda. People should vote No on 1 on Nov. 4 and help stop the further spread of the HSUS anti-hunting agenda,” he said.
Those in favor of preserving Maine’s bear hunting methods as they currently exist have been busy trying to educate the public, through meetings held throughout the state, which encouraged interaction.
“Our strategy of building a big and diverse coalition and welcoming different points of view into the discussion has been tremendously successful. We have really enjoyed being out in the public and having discussions over the last 14 months. We know our message is resonating based on our polling and the word-of-mouth feedback we get on a daily basis. This issue is important to Maine, our economy and our bear population. It is vitally important that people trust our wildlife experts, not special interests from away,” said Cote.
Cote said the majority of the 80,000 signatures gathered by the Yes on 1 campaign to get the referendum question on the ballot most likely were obtained from points south of Aroostook.
“I can only guess, but my assumption is that a very small number of signatures came from northern Maine. I don’t think these signatures necessarily mean much either,” said Cote.
He said what’s important is getting factual information out to voters.
“What does mean a lot is the educational effort that has happened on the ground for the past year. People have learned a lot over the last year and I suspect that even some people that were initially in favor of the initiative are now opposed to it based on the fact that our bear experts — the biologists and game wardens at DIFW — are opposed to this measure,” he said.
In an Oct. 8 article in The Star-Herald, Pacelle said during a visit in Presque Isle said he wanted to “ask people for their compassion and for them to uphold a hunting ethic in the state of Maine.” Cote questioned Pacelle’s knowledge of hunting ethics, given the fact Pacelle is not a hunter.
“Where Mr. Pacelle isn’t from Maine and isn’t a sportsman, I have a difficult time with him telling us about ethics or hunting, period. I am a lifelong Maine sportsman, as are thousands and thousands of people that I represent. These are some of the most compassionate people I know and some of the best conservationists,” said Cote.
Cote said methods currently in use to hunt bear are dictated by wildlife experts and closely monitored. He said it takes all these methods combined to maintain Maine’s bear population — currently estimated at over 30,000.
“Methods are dictated by the DIFW based on the numbers of hunters, population size and objectives, and the difficulty of the hunt. I think all hunters understand that you find game where the food is. Whether that is natural food or man-placed food, I don’t think it makes much difference in regard to the quality of the hunt. What it does make a difference on is the success rate by which hunters can harvest animals,” said Cote. “We need baiting to allow us to achieve our harvest objectives — without it, we wouldn’t even be close.”
To achieve population objectives, a harvest of 3,500 to 4,500 bears is needed annually, according to information from the DIFW. Since 2005, harvest has declined below objectives, averaging 2,910 annually, and is attributed to a 24 percent decline in hunter numbers.
Cote said Pacelle’s comparing the bear hunting opportunities in Colorado, Oregon and Washington to that of Maine was similar to comparing apples to oranges. He said passage of Yes on 1 would result in a negative impact to the state’s economy, not an increase.
“The habitat and terrain in those states is much different. Based on surveys of the DIFW to actual Maine and non-resident bear hunters, we are positive that the number of hunters who currently come to Maine to hunt bears will find another place to hunt and take those tourism dollars elsewhere. That’s a scenario that hurts rural Maine,” said Cote.
Although still-hunters in the western U.S. have greater access, restricting hunters in Maine to still-hunting may be impractical, according to the DIFW, because of Maine’s terrain and thick vegetation.
The DIFW indicates bears are more common where human densities are lowest, thus the number of conflicts between humans and black bears in Maine is lower than other northeastern states and averages about 500 complaints a year. However, if Maine’s bear population continues to grow, bears will move into areas with higher human densities and conflicts will rise.
Cote said concerns that baiting would accustom bears to humans, causing them to seek out human food rather than natural food sources, were unfounded. He said backyard barbecues were more likely to attract hungry bears.
“Bait does not habituate bears to humans. Bird feeders, grills and other forms of routine yard food is what brings bears into close contact with humans. Bait happens away from populated areas and allows us to harvest bears more effectively, thus keeping the bear population to a manageable level and away from homes and people. That’s a good thing,” said Cote.
Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting have filed a motion that would stop DIFW from “continuing illegal use of taxpayer money to conduct a political campaign in opposition of Question 1,” which effectively ties the hands of the experts, preventing them from stating the facts and how eliminating these forms of hunting will negatively impact their efforts to control the bear population.
“That’s exactly right. There is no question that this attempt by Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting is a last-ditch effort to silence the people who are most credible on this topic. Maine people want to hear from our experts, not the outsiders. It is outrageous that they want to muzzle the most knowledgeable people on this issue,” said Cote. “We stand with the people of DIFW.”
He questioned Pacelle’s belief that  if Question 1 passes, “hunting will be safe, bear populations stable.”
“Unfortunately, if Question 1 passes, the largest impact will be that people will have to start dealing with bears on their own because there just won’t be the resources to manage bear complaints. Some people will have to pay professionals to come get rid of bears, and some people will just assume the risk and handle complaints themselves. That doesn’t sound like a very good model,” said Cote.
If Question 1 passes, the state’s economy will take a huge hit, both directly and indirectly, according to Cote.
“This is just one more major blow to the rural Maine economy. After seeing the mills in Millinocket and Bucksport close their doors, how can we afford to kick a $53 million economy out the door?” asked Cote.
He stressed the importance of these methods of hunting bear to the state’s financial well being.
“The bottom line is this hunt is extremely important to the fabric of rural Maine. Guides, gas stations, lodges, restaurants, sporting goods dealers — they all need this hunt. The proponents have offered no plan to help with our economy, but if they get their way we will get stuck holding the bag and they will return to their ivory towers in Washington, D.C.,” said Cote.
“We need folks to vote No on 1 — it is so important for the future of northern Maine and our state,” said Cote.
For more bear information, visit