The wildlife director of the state’s Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife said Friday the money the department spent on Web design work for the bear-hunting referendum was used to educate the public.

The department paid $6,600 to a Web-design company for work specifically done on Web pages and a PowerPoint presentation opposing the statewide bear-hunting referendum, according to department emails. Those emails were obtained by Mainers For Fair Bear Hunting, proponents of the ballot measure, after a judge ordered IFW to release emails related to the referendum.

The bear-hunting ballot measure will ask voters on Nov. 4: “Do you want to ban the use of bait, dogs or traps in bear hunting except to protect property, public safety or for research?” The department has actively voiced its opposition to the proposal.

Katie Hansberry, director of Mainers For Fair Bear Hunting, contends the $6,600 spent by the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife was misuse of public money because it was spent to influence the outcome of the referendum.

However, Wildlife Division Director Judy Camuso said the website design work done by Erica Johnson Design in Westbrook specifically for the bear referendum was done to educate the public about bear management. She said it is a part of the department’s normal course of duty to educate and inform the public about wildlife issues.

Camuso added the work of educating the public on bear management is made difficult by “misinformation” spread by the Mainers For Fair Bear Hunting, proponents of Question 1.

“We don’t have a graphic designer on staff and we regularly need to use one to do some professional work, whether it’s a hunting law book or research management reports,” Camuso said. “We needed a slide show (for the referendum talks) and (Erica Johnson) helped with a PowerPoint presentation, and did a whole lot of graphic related stuff for us.

“One thing I can tell you where I struggle as a biologist is in taking the science and making it understandable to the public. That’s where we need to go for outside help.”

In the fiscal year that began July 1, IFW received 7 percent of its funding from the state’s General Fund. Fifty-six percent of the department’s $38 million annual budget came from hunting and fishing licenses and outdoor sporting fees, while the rest came from the federal government (25 percent), and special revenue like conservation license plates (12 percent).

Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler ruled Wednesday that IFW employees may campaign on the bear-hunting referendum because their free speech is protected under the First Amendment. In addition, she ruled the Fair Bear Hunting group failed to demonstrate the department’s opposition to Question 1 caused “irreparable injury.”

Camuso said in all of the emails obtained by Mainers For Fair Bear Hunting, there is nothing that indicts IFW’s work.

“They can look through all of our emails forever, there is nothing contradictory or different from what we’re telling people when we are out talking to the public,” Camuso said. “Our staff is passionate and believes in what they are telling the public. If anything, they have told me I’m not doing enough to educate the public.”

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