Once again, as in 2004, officials of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife are speaking out against the bear referendum, creating a clear conflict of interest between their role as public employees whose salaries are paid by all taxpayers and their close — some might say too close — relationship with the state’s powerful hunting lobby. In a vast agency like IFW, one would expect some difference of opinion on the bear issue, but you can be sure no dissenting voice will ever be heard — not because everyone is of the same mind but because the agency is beholden to the financial and political pressures that are very much a part of the November referendum. Late last year, IFW’s Commissioner Chandler Woodcock stated his opposition to the referendum. It’s highly unlikely that anyone at IFW is going to disagree in public with the Commissioner. We’ve been told to trust the state biologists, but their objectivity has been seriously compromised.

It’s also been suggested, that if baiting ends, we’ll be practically overrun with bears. If it’s true that most bears are killed over bait then that’s only because the IFW has taken the sport out of sportsmanship and turned hunting into something more like a shooting gallery where these animals are lured by human junk food and ambushed while they eat. If IFW persists in ignoring its own advice not to feed bears, these creatures will continue to be drawn ever closer to populated areas. Under this misguided approach, it’s no wonder that some of them become nuisances.

Let’s not forget that the bears of Maine — if they belong to anyone other than themselves — belong to us all, and the way they are treated is a powerful statement about the kind of people we are and the values we hold.

Don Loprieno