Maine legislators will soon consider the $75 million Land for Maine’s Future bond proposal. Its worthy aim is to secure what Mainers of all political persuasions seem to want – more conservation land for outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat.

The bill, L.D. 911, has more than 100 co-sponsors from both parties, and Gov. Mills is a strong proponent. A fine-print dictate buried in the proposal is troubling, however, and it’s critical that its implications are understood by both legislators and voters.

It stipulates that “hunting, fishing, trapping and public access may not be prohibited on land acquired with bond proceeds.” Exceptions would be made only for waterfront or farm properties, or if state, local or federal laws prohibit these activities.

This clause was part of past LMF bonds, but those of us who enjoy hiking, camping, bird-watching and photographing living wildlife are disturbed by the undemocratic and unconditional nature of the clause. Our legislators still have time to study and rewrite the provision, and that’s what we want them to do.

The primary problem with giving hunters and trappers unconditional access to LMF lands is that many of Maine’s hunting and trapping practices are out of sync with modern conservation principles, ethical hunting standards and responsible land stewardship.

Serious abuses by hunters in recent years have prompted a continually expanding number of private-property owners to close their properties to hunters. What would the remedy be for abuses on LMF properties?

The use of GPS-collared hounds to chase down, tear apart and kill living coyotes is widely practiced year-round in Maine. There is no closed season on coyotes. The distress this practice causes to property owners and the animals involved is well-documented.

Baiting coyotes with slaughterhouse offal and discards from game-meat processors is also a problem. Baiting and hounding disrupt the natural movements and behavior of wild animals. Will the hunter-trapper provision prevent land managers from banning these practices on LMF lands?

Coyote bait piles made from game-meat discards can include fragments from lead bullets. This is another significant problem, because it is now well understood that lead bullets, the predominant ammunition used in Maine, fragment into tiny pieces when they strike an animal. These can number in the hundreds and travel far into tissues.

Lead bullet fragments are poisoning untold numbers of birds and other wildlife. Eagles and other scavengers ingest the lead when picking at remains left by hunters. Other birds ingest lead shot they mistake for seed.

Maine’s Avian Haven rehabilitation center reported that 75 percent of the mature eagles admitted in 2016 had elevated blood lead levels. In prior years, lead levels in eagles were no higher than 50 percent. Some birds have huge exposures that are rapidly fatal; others suffer for long periods with sub-lethal exposures.

Trappers also inadvertently kill and maim eagles and other scavenging animals. Traps are indiscriminate and inhumane. Trappers are not required to alert the public to trap locations, so pets can be at serious risk when trappers are given access to recreational land.

The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that captures of non-target animals can reach close to 70 percent of total catch. The association is also clear about the anguish traps cause, reporting that swelling, hemorrhage and lacerations of restrained limbs are common, and that restraining animals causes fear and distress. Trapped raccoons have a high incidence of self-mutilation.

Why should this activity be given special protections on LMF land when it is practiced by less than 2 percent of Maine citizens?

The coercive nature of the hunt-trap-fish provision is made most evident by LMF’s fund-matching structure. Every dollar of the $75 million must be matched by money from public or private sources. This means fund managers will give fund recipients 50 percent of the money required for land purchases, while asking for 100 percent control over who gains access.

Those of us who want revisions to the hunt-trap mandate will hear that we’re “antis” seeking to destroy Maine’s hunting heritage. This is not the case. We recognize our state’s traditional sustenance-hunting traditions. We simply want fairness, a clear-eyed investigation of damaging practices and the recognition that a small minority of Maine citizens should not be able to dictate how our public lands are used.