WELD — A year after Maine voters defeated a second bear-hunting referendum, hunting guides are wary they might have to fight off another challenge in the future.

However, the Humane Society of the United States, which funded last year’s campaign to ban the use of bait, hounds and traps in bear hunting in Maine, says it has no plans to return.

Nicole Paquette, the Humane Society vice president for wildlife protection, said Thursday that while ending Maine’s “cruel bear hunting practices” remains a priority for the international animal-welfare group, there are no plans to pursue another referendum.

“It’s an issue that’s not going away. This is a top priority for our supporters in the state, and it’s important to us on a wider scale,” Paquette said. “We haven’t made any decision on what is our next move.”

Last November, the day after Maine’s second bear-hunting referendum was defeated, Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle said his group would return to Maine, even though it had poured $2 million into a campaign to end bear-hunting practices in the state. The ballot measure was rejected by Maine voters, 53 percent to 47 percent, 10 years after a similar referendum was defeated in 2004.

Mainers For Fair Bear Hunting, the referendum’s proponents, raised more than $2 million for last year’s campaign; 97 percent of the money came from the Humane Society in Washington, D.C., and just 3 percent from Maine donors, according to the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.


The coalition of hunting and outdoor groups fighting to defeat the referendum raised $2.8 million, 39 percent of which came from Maine. They received 61 percent ($1.7 million) from sportsmen in 41 states.

Despite victory at the polls, Maine bear guides remain worried.

“It’s never behind us. The wolf at the door is not ever going to go away,” said Master Maine Guide Tenley Bennett at Fish River Lodge outside Fort Kent.

“They will keep trying to make us run out of money to fight this. It’s unfortunate. We’re independent business owners. This is how we make our living. The most frustrating part is bear hunting in Maine is wildlife management.”

As Registered Maine Guide Bob Parker spread buckets of pastries across several bear bait sites in western Maine, he and fellow guide Don Kleiner mused over what might be the society’s next move.

“I’m disappointed (the Humane Society) would think so little of Maine people to make us spend (over a) million dollars on this fight last year,” Parker said as he drove through rutted, narrow logging roads.


“It didn’t put us ahead. It did not make our lives better. We are right where we were after spending all that money.”

Kleiner, the director of the Maine Professional Guides Association who guides fishermen in the summer and bird hunters in the fall, said the loss of bear hunting in Maine would have a ripple effect through rural communities. Kleiner estimates 200 Maine guides make all or part of their annual income guiding bear hunters.

“When I take clients fishing, I start the day filling up my truck and my boat with $110 in gas. I know the lady in that convenience store does not make the connection why I’m spending money there,” Kleiner said. “In Bob’s case, his clients are spending a week in this community, buying meals and spending money.”

A bear guide for more than 30 years, Parker worries that if the hunt ended, his life’s work and livelihood would come to an end. Parker guides bear hunters in Maine in the fall, and in New Brunswick, Canada, in the spring. So for him, bear hunting provides a year-round income. At Stony Brook Outfitters lodge in Weld, Parker and his wife also host bear hunters, most from out of state.

“This is all I do for work,” Parker said. “Many of my clients have been coming for years.”

More than 90 percent of the roughly 3,000 black bears killed by hunters annually in Maine are taken over bait, with dogs or traps, according to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Yet the bear population continues to grow. It has expanded statewide from 23,000 to 31,000 in the past decade, according to the department.


The 2015 bear baiting season began Aug. 31 and continues until Sept. 26. The season allowing for the use of hounds begins Monday and runs through Oct. 30. And the open season when bears can be stalked lasts until Nov. 30.

In Strong, Guide Scott York is excited Mainers chose to sustain bear-hunting methods, but he still worries guides will have to help fund another referendum fight.

“It’s more or less a fund-raiser for them. They keep doing this to show their supporters they are working for their beliefs. This is a good part of my living and there are not a lot of jobs to take its place if we lose this,” said York, a guide of 30 years who also works as a logger.

At the northern tip of Maine, Bennett said she and her husband work multiple jobs, but if the bear bait hunt is taken away they still would have to leave Eagle Lake.

“People don’t realize in the rural economy how much revenue the hunters put through these little towns,” Bennett said. “The first day of bear season I posted on Facebook a ‘thank you’ to all the people who voted in favor of keeping Maine’s bear management program. In their life it may be forgotten now. But from where I sit bear hunting is a very real part of life.”

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