AUGUSTA — A legislative committee voted Tuesday against endorsing a bill that would have ended the state’s prohibition on using bait to hunt deer in Maine.

“My concern is this could really hurt the pride of hunting in Maine,” said Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Kennebec, the committee’s co-chair. “Hunting should be somewhat of a challenge. It could create problems down the road with the Humane Society (of the United States) ripping these things apart. I just don’t want to see our hunting industry jeopardized. And this opens up a can of worms.”

The Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee voted against the bill, 9-2, and also voted unanimously Tuesday to kill several other hunting bills.

Several people testified against the baiting bill, L.D. 62, during a public hearing on March 2, including the directors of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and the Maine Professional Guides Association.

Jim Connolly, IFW’s director of resource management, testified that there are many reasons to retain the prohibition on deer baiting. For one, baiting can concentrate the deer herd, making the animals more susceptible to chronic wasting disease, which is fatal for deer, Connolly said. Also, baiting deer would encourage people to feed deer, which can draw them to populated areas where they are more likely to wander into roads and be struck by vehicles, the department says.

Finally if baiting results in a higher hunting success rate, the deer season might have to be shortened or the number of any-deer permits might have to be reduced, Connolly said.

David Trahan, director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, and Don Kleiner, director of the Maine Professional Guides Association, opposed the bill because it could put more hunting pressure on herds in areas where deer are relatively sparse, and there’s “no real biological or management-based reason to support (the bill),” Trahan said.

Registered Maine Guide Dave Kelso of Madawaska was one of a few to support the bill at Tuesday’s hearing. But he said he wasn’t surprised it was killed in committee.

Kelso said it’s already legal to hunt deer where crops that attract them are grown, “so what’s the difference?”

“To me when you plant crops for the sole purpose to attract deer, you are indeed baiting,” Kelso said.

Rep. Peter Lyford, R-Eddington, the bill’s sponsor, offered the same point.

Rep. Gina Mason, R-Lisbon, who also voted to endorse the bill, said her husband hunts in Canada, where baiting is allowed, so why not allow it in Maine?

“I don’t hunt. But I listen to a lot of hunting stuff. Deer are very smart,” Mason said. “In Canada, they use alfalfa and it doesn’t mean the deer will come in.”

The committee spent more than an hour debating the merits of six other hunting bills, among them one that would distribute more of the available antlerless-deer permits – which allow hunters to shoot at any deer – to disabled veterans, landowners and those age 70 and over. All six bills were defeated unanimously.

“I think if you keep piece-mealing with the deer (permits), there are only so many deer,” said Cyrway. “I’m just worried you get into this, then some (other needed group) will come up, and it will just keep going.”

Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham sponsored a bill to allow any veteran with a 100-percent disability to obtain an antlerless-deer permit. He asked that disabled veterans be allowed to ask Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Chandler Woodcock to provide them with permits to hunt in zones that are convenient for them.

Bill Swan, the department’s director of licensing and registration, said that option already exists.

“He gets a lot of requests, and he does deny some and he does grant some,” Swan said.

Sen. Michael Carpenter, D-Aroostook, said while he supports increased opportunities for Maine’s veterans, the general public may resent it if more hunting permits are earmarked for specific groups.

“I worry there will be backlash,” Carpenter said.

Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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