Supporters of an initiative that would ask Mainers to support a ban on using bait, dogs and traps to hunt bears say they have gathered more than enough signatures to force the issue to a statewide referendum vote in November.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap confirmed Monday night that Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting submitted 78,528 petition signatures to his office by Monday’s deadline.

Dunlap’s staff will now have 30 days to verify that at least 57,277 of those signatures are those of registered Maine voters – the minimum required to have a question placed on the November ballot.

After the secretary of state verifies the signatures, the Legislature would then be given the opportunity to enact the proposal as law – an unlikely prospect, given the controversial history of previous attempts at curbing bear baiting.

In 2004, Maine voters rejected, 53 percent to 47 percent, a similar measure that would have prohibited hunters from using food, traps and hunting dogs to pursue and kill bears.

Katie Hansberry, campaign director for Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, said that in the latest effort petitioners, over a period 121 days, gathered signatures from 417 cities and towns in every county.

“This is an issue that is still important to Mainers all around the state,” Hansberry said Monday night. “Baiting bears is a problematic and reckless practice.”

A news release posted on the Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting website claims that the baiting, hounding and trapping of bears is inhumane and unsporting.

“Dumping millions of pounds of pizza, jelly (doughnuts), and rotting food into the woods to lure in bears for an easy kill, habituates bears to humans and grows their population,” the news release said. “Baiting, hounding and trapping are the lazy man’s way to hunt and have no place in responsible wildlife management.”

On its website, Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting list endorsements from a number of groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, the Wildlife Alliance of Maine, the Coastal Humane Society in Brunswick, the Animal Refuge League of Westbrook, and Maine Friends of Animals.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, took issue with Hansberry’s claims. SAM belongs to an opposing group that calls itself Save Maine’s Bear Hunt.

Save Maine’s Bear Hunt believes that bear hunting in Maine contributes to the state’s rural economy and represents an important piece of Maine’s outdoor heritage, according to its website. The group wants the public to let biologists at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife continue to manage the state’s bear population, Trahan said.

He said Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting exaggerates bear-hunting tactics and is being backed by a national organization – the Humane Society of the United States.

If the secretary of state validates the group’s signatures, Trahan foresees a long and contentious debate in the months ahead. He said the Humane Society told him it would spend up to $3 million on a campaign to ban baiting, hounding and traps in Maine.

“Given the amount of money they have and the fact that they don’t mind saying things that are over the top, it could get heated,” he said.

According to the Save Maine’s Bear Hunt website, Republican Gov. Paul LePage and his opponents for governor – Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler – do not support a ban on baiting, hounding and trapping.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com