January 15

Maine Voices: Pick science over sensationalism for managing Maine’s bear population

The Humane Society’s petition effort threatens to destroy a very successful conservation model.

By state Reps. Mike Shaw and Jeff Evangelos

AUGUSTA — Wildlife conservation is defined as “regulation of wild animals and plants in such a way as to provide for their continuance.” In order to achieve this worthy goal, states like Maine have adopted programs and created departments like the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife with the sole purpose of managing our wildlife in a sustainable manner.

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Rep. Mike Shaw, D-Standish, chairs the Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. Rep. Jeff Evangelos, a Friendship independent, is a member of the committee.

The department has trained professional biologists to manage everything from squirrels to moose, and game wardens have been hired to police our woods and waters to ensure our animals are protected.

The Washington, D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States, an animal rights group, has launched another citizen petition to ban baiting, hounding and trapping – our most effective tools for managing bears. This is in a coordinated campaign to promote their political agenda to end the use of hunters as a tool to manage wildlife. If they are successful, they will destroy one of the most successful conservation models of the last half century.

From 1946 to 1957, Maine had a $15 bounty on and no laws or regulations protecting bears. They were considered dump rats and a nuisance to agriculture. Anyone could kill them – any time, any place, male, female, cubs, it didn’t matter. From 1957 to 1969, there was no bounty on bears, but, no regulations either. Finally, with the support of sportsmen and women, in 1969, Maine established the first bear hunting license and a season lasting from May 1 to the end of November with a one-bear limit.

In response to data collected by biologists, in 1981, the spring season was terminated and, in 1990, trapping, hounding and baiting seasons were shortened. In the last decade, the steel leg hold trap called the Newhouse was made illegal for trapping bears and replaced with the more humane foothold snare used by animal damage control agents from all over the world. This is proof that our public processes and bear management programs work!

It was not the Humane Society of the United States that stepped up to protect and elevate the public perception of bears from a pest to one that that should be conserved and protected. Indeed, this was the effort of sportsmen, the Legislature and conservationists through a new license fee that would be used to establish an ongoing revenue stream to guarantee trained, professional biologists and wardens would closely monitor and protect bear populations. Because of this commitment to sound science, Maine has two world-renowned bear biologists with a combined 54 years of experience.

Since 1969, with the oversight of the Inland Fisheries & Wildlife bear biologists, the legislative Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and sportsmen, Maine’s black bears have flourished. The population has grown from 23,000 in 2004 to 31,000 in 2012, with healthy bears found throughout Maine.

We have accomplished this success story while striking a delicate balance between public safety and the conservation needs of bears. As a result, bear nuisance complaints have remained relatively stable and sociably acceptable.

Enter the Humane Society of the United States, who, with their team of lawyers and millions of dollars slated for media manipulation, would hijack this success story and replace it with wildlife management based on 30-second emotional TV commercials.

Despite what the Humane Society of the United States is saying about these methods, Maine Inland Fisheries & Wildlife biologists closely monitor Maine’s bear population and use this information to adjust hunting regulations when necessary to maintain healthy bear populations and reduce bear-human conflicts.

It is no coincidence that nearly 70 elected Democrats, Republicans and independents, nearly all the candidates for Congress and for governor and more than 25 Maine organizations have already publicly stated their opposition to this initiative.

There is a legislative process to change management tools for wildlife and our committee continues to use it to improve hunting methods. Using TV commercials, T-shirts and bumper stickers to manage wildlife like the animal activists lobby wants to do is irresponsible and has the potential to harm bears, private property and public safety.

We hope Maine people will see this referendum for what it is – an unnecessary attack on the three most effective tools for managing one of the most successful conservation programs of the last 60 years. Let’s reject this measure soundly!

— Special to the Press Herald

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