SOUTH CHINA — The recent sighting of a bear in Gorham should serve as a wake-up call to southern Maine residents about Maine’s bear feeding program. In 2004 and again in 2014, Mainers went to the polls to vote on ending the feeding of bears for the purpose of hunting them, as well as ending bear trapping and hounding. Both citizen-initiated referendums were narrowly defeated, in part because of aggressive anti-referendum campaigns by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Mainers today have another opportunity to try to shut down Maine’s bear feeding program. I recently submitted a petition signed by more than 150 registered voters. The petition is to change Maine’s bear hunting rule by requiring a permit to feed bears and then by decreasing and finally eliminating bear feeding permits over a 10-year period. Because Maine law permits so-called bear “baiting,” the use of food and other materials for scent and sight baits would be allowed to continue. The major difference is that this food would not be available for the bears to eat. The public comment period for this proposal ends June 5. Please email [email protected] to request a copy of the proposed rule change and/or to comment.

Maine’s bear management system is a disaster. It has grown, not controlled Maine’s bear population. The committee that developed the most recent management plan was comprised almost entirely of bear hunting advocates. The key elements of the plan are to increase bear feeding and bear hunting. Of course, this would benefit both the bear hunting industry and IFW.

Maine’s bear population is exploding, and its range is expanding. Practically the entire state is now occupied by bears. In 2004, IFW warned us that unless bear feeding-baiting was continued, the bear population would explode. Maine’s bear feeding program was continued and the bear population has since nearly doubled from 23,000 to approximately 45,000 bears. It is now some 10,000 bears over the natural carrying capacity.

IFW’s faulty logic is that bears need to be fed in order to kill them in sufficient numbers to control the population. In fact, Maine’s bear feeding program is intended to grow the population – to produce more and bigger bears for the hunting industry and for IFW’s coffers.

Science tells us that feeding bears produces more bears. Without evidence, IFW tells us in the most recent management plan that this is a “myth.” Science tells us that female bears that go into hibernation at a lighter weight produce fewer or no cubs that winter. In Maine, bear cub production used to be higher every other year, depending on the abundance of mast crops, primarily beechnut. Cub production is now relatively stable each year and at a higher rate of production. The most significant change in the Maine woods and the only logical explanation is the widespread dumping of food at thousands of feeding sites. One has to wonder why IFW recently withdrew a plan to assess the impact of feeding on Maine’s bear population.

Feeding bears not only produces more bears but also causes changes in bear behavior and teaches them to rely on human foods. It can also promote and spread diseases among bears and other wildlife that congregate at feeding sites.

Bears are visiting backyards, and the only thing IFW has to do is offer advice to take down your bird feeder. They are silent on the issue of this state-endorsed feeding program and its effect on the growth of the bear population and the expansion of bear range. Why should the people of Maine have to put up with this gross mismanagement of Maine’s bears for the economic benefit of Maine’s bear hunting industry and IFW? We shouldn’t.

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