PORTLAND — Media coverage has revealed that not only Gov. LePage but also his opponents in this fall’s race for governor, Democratic 2nd District Rep. Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler, favor continuing the inhumane and unsporting practices of bear hounding, baiting and trapping.

It’s no surprise that some politicians are locked into their views on this issue. These politicians have failed in their responsibility to represent the views of Mainers who want fair-chase bear hunting, and that’s why we are seeking to put this measure on the ballot and give all Maine voters an opportunity to decide.

Maine is the last state in the entire country to allow all three practices of bear baiting, hounding and trapping. It’s not surprising that we stand alone in this realm, since these practices are incredibly inhumane and unsporting. They certainly do not reflect our Maine values and traditions.

Hounders release packs of dogs into the woods to chase bears to exhaustion. The dogs are fitted with GPS collars linked to hand-held computers so they can be monitored remotely.

When the bear finally takes refuge in a tree, she is then blasted off a branch. Or, if the bear doesn’t make it up the tree in time, a fight with the dogs ensues. This brutality is hard for most people to watch and often kills the bear, the dogs or both.

The hounds used to chase down bears are often regarded more as another piece of hunting equipment than as family pets. Maine shelters report taking in unwanted hounds when their usefulness has expired. Maine veterinarians who have treated these hounds report that they rarely see the same dog twice.

Trappers lure bears to snare traps which tighten painfully around the bears’ paws as they struggle in frustration and fear to escape the grips of the trap. Video footage of a bear struggling in a trap is heartbreaking to watch. These traps have to be checked only once per day, so a bear could wait for up to 24 hours only to be shot at point-blank range.

Baiters dump literally millions of pounds of pizza, jelly doughnuts and rotting meat into our beautiful Maine woods, to lure in bears for an easy kill. They shoot the bear while it feasts on this human junk food. Maine does not allow baiting for any other big-game species, like deer or moose.

Baiting is not just unsporting – it’s poor wildlife management. Feeding bears an unnatural diet habituates bears to human food sources and increases the chance for conflicts between bears and people.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife rightfully issues stern warnings to the public not to feed bears every year in an attempt to reduce these bear-human conflicts. These naturally shy creatures would prefer to avoid humans, but an easy meal can be tempting enough for them to reverse their typical inclination to steer clear. It’s time for Maine to be consistent and stop perpetuating these reckless practices on a much grander scale.

What’s more, feeding bears high-calorie foods via baiting amounts to a supplemental feeding program that increases bears’ reproductivity. It makes little sense to kill bears with a method that is simultaneously increasing their population.

It would be right to end hounding, baiting and trapping even if it did nothing else for the state of Maine, but fortunately, ending these practices will have a myriad of benefits, above and beyond ceasing the suffering of bears and hounds.

Data from states like Washington, Oregon and Colorado that banned these practices 20 years ago demonstrates that restoring fair-chase bear hunting results in increased bear tag sales and revenue to the state. Meanwhile, bear populations in these states have remained stable, as have “nuisance” complaint levels.

We fully expect to see the same results here. As well, a nonpartisan body – the Maine Office of Fiscal and Program Review – has also found that there would not be negative economic impacts from ending these practices here in Maine.

Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting is a broad coalition of animal protection groups, conservationists, responsible hunters, local businesses and veterinarians. Our member groups include the Wildlife Alliance of Maine, The Humane Society of the United States, Maine Friends of Animals and local animal shelters such as the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland in Westbrook, the Animal Welfare Society of West Kennebunk and the Coastal Humane Society of Brunswick.

Join us at fairbearhunt.com and help give all Mainers – not just the politicians and their special interest allies – a voice on bear management. 

— Special to the Press Herald