A judge on Wednesday refused to issue an emergency injunction aimed at stopping the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife from using its resources to campaign against a ban on baiting, trapping and using dogs to hunt bears.

Justice Joyce Wheeler ruled that the group that sought the injunction, Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, had failed to demonstrate that the department’s opposition to Question 1 on the November ballot caused “irreparable injury,” and that department employees’ free speech is protected under the First Amendment.

“Restricting speech on contested public issues is directly contrary to the public interest, which favors a robust and dynamic public discourse,” Wheeler wrote in the 15-page ruling filed shortly before 4 p.m. in Cumberland County Superior Court. “DIFW’s advocacy activities are based on their experience and expertise and relate to initiatives that it perceives would have serious consequences for their effective management of Maine’s bear population.”

Wheeler made the ruling after mulling the issue for several days. She heard arguments from attorneys on both sides of the matter in court Friday.

“This decision should not be read as an endorsement of DIFW’s campaign activities as a matter of policy; but rather a subscription to the point of view articulated (by case law) that ‘more speech is better than less, and the Plaintiffs remain free to make their own voices louder and more persuasive in the marketplace of ideas,’ ” Wheeler wrote. “If Plaintiffs do not like DIFW’s speech, its remedy is to vote out of office or limit the conduct of those officials by law by petitioning the Maine Legislature to pass a law limiting DIFW’s ability to fund and participate in campaign activities with other groups such as Ballot Question Committees.”

Timothy Feeley, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, which represents the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in the case, called the judge’s ruling a “victory for free speech.”


“We are pleased with the court’s decision that members of the department acted lawfully in expressing their views on a matter within their particular area of expertise,” Feeley said.

James Cote, the campaign manager for the Save Maine’s Bear Hunt/NO on 1 Campaign, praised the judge’s ruling and said that if she had ruled otherwise she would have “silenced Maine’s bear experts.”

“Outside anti-hunting groups have not been content to pour millions into Maine to buy this election. They frivolously sued the state of Maine to stop the only actual bear experts involved in this campaign from telling the public the truth,” Cote in a written statement.

Attorney Rachel Wertheimer, who represents Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, could not be reached for comment after Wednesday’s ruling.

Immediately after the court hearing Friday, Wheeler ordered the wildlife department to disclose records concerning its political activities.

Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, a coalition of animal welfare advocates, filed a Superior Court lawsuit on Sept. 30 accusing DIFW of illegally using taxpayer money to conduct a political campaign in opposition to the ballot measure. The lawsuit also sought to force the department to immediately respond to Freedom of Access Act requests concerning its political activities.

Question 1, which will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot, asks if hunters in Maine should be banned from using bait, traps and dogs to hunt black bears. The same proposal was rejected by Maine voters in 2004 by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent.

Wheeler, in her Friday ruling on the Freedom of Access Act requests, ordered the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to release its documents in two waves. The department released its first installment to Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting on Wednesday morning; another installment is due to be released on Oct. 29.

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