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Sunday, 19 August 2018

Bear Bill Hearing at Augusta Civic Center April 28, 2005
Written by Robert Fisk, Jr.   
Friday, 06 May 2005

President & Director of Maine Friends of Animals
IN SUPPORT OF L.D. 628 “An Act to Amend the Bear Hunting Laws” and
IN SUPPORT OF L.D. 1460 “An Act to Ban Bear Hunting with Traps Except to Protect the Public”

April 28, 2005

Good afternoon Senator Byrant, Representative Watson and distinguished members of the committee.  I am Robert Fisk, Jr., president and director of Maine Friends of Animals, a statewide animal advocate group that promotes the humane treatment of animals with education, advocacy and legislation; and we initiated the bear referendum. 

The bear referendum significantly increased the public awareness of wildlife animal cruelty, unethical forms of hunting and how Maine’s wildlife is managed and by whom. Most Mainers knew very little about how we hunted bear in this state until the referendum. They learned a lot. The view of bear hunting will never be the same after the referendum. Because of that I honestly believe what happens to these bear bills by this committee will set the tone for wildlife issues for many years to come. If this legislation is dismissed as this committee has done before I believe it will create a greater divide among non-hunters and hunters, increase criticism of the department as being pawns of sportsmen, and stimulate a call for future referendums.

In my view the unrest about control of wildlife issues has never been higher, and it is in the hands of this committee and the legislature to determine if we will have a more cooperative and inclusive atmosphere and approach to wildlife issues, or increased friction driven by certain sportsman’s groups who maintain a proprietary attitude about wildlife decisions and continue to ignore the growing majority of non-consumptive wildlife users.

Those advocating concern about inhumane practices like trapping, coyote snaring and bear hounding have been repeatedly dismissed as “radical animal rights extremists”, and I am sure you will hear it again today. It is the convenient way to avoid discussing the issues, and easier than trying to defend controversial and unethical forms of hunting.  But after the bear referendum those same people now make up 47% of the voters and that can no longer be dismissed as “radical animal rights extremists.” That diversionary tactic rings hollow now that the general public has learned the truth about bear hounding and trapping. They now know they are inhumane and make a mockery of fair chase hunting.

It is widely believed that if the referendum included only hounding and trapping it would have easily passed. That is exactly what we propose to you here today. Let’s remove baiting from the discussion and examine hounding and trapping separately.   

I will digress briefly to make a larger point. Coyote snaring was an indefensible program that has been ineffectual, extremely cruel, a waste of taxpayers dollars, and one the department neither had the time, interest or resources to implement. It was a very minor program and hardly an issue or a program to draw a line in the sand over, but the opponents did, which are the same people here today opposing all these bills. Coyote snaring opponents spent two years in a campaign to end this egregiously inhumane and useless practice. The heavy-handedness in which the coyote snaring issue was handled last session was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. In ten years of bringing animal protection legislation before the legislature I have never seen so many infuriated people statewide. It was then that we knew that it was simply a waste of time to get any legislation passed those who do not want any restriction on any hunting practice no matter how inhumane, unethical or unnecessary they are.

Having an appreciation for the legislative process as a former legislator, I have always advocated that animal protection advocates work within the system and we tried year after year, as we do today. But when every bill we present that tries to address needless animal suffering gets killed in committee it hardens the resolve to find a way to be heard. The bear referendum was a classic example of why we have the referendum process in this state. The short of it is the banning of hunting bears with dogs has broad public support and if this legislation loses, or worse yet is dismissed again by the committee, it will signal a growing divide between hunters and non-hunters, which unfortunately will paint all hunters and the department as rigid and ideologically extreme.

Which brings me to L.D. 628 and the issue of hunting bears with hounds. Throughout the bear referendum we said the three practices were unsportsmanlike, inhumane, and unnecessary; when you single out hounding it becomes even a stronger argument.  

First, unsportsmanlike. There is no pursuit in shooting a hound-treed bear at point blank range at the base of a tree. By definition hunting is the pursuit of a wild animal with the intent to capture or kill. Pursuit, the actual chase precedes the kill; without it, hunting is merely killing.

Without restrictions on how we pursue game, the “hunt” loses meaning, ceases to exist. An ethical hunter realizes he or she earns the privilege to take an animal’s life by mastering the skills of the hunt. The only hunters here are the dogs. Fair chase demands a balance of power between hunter and the hunted – otherwise you have nothing more than shooting animals in a barrel.

Second, it is inhumane. This is a fundamental issue that the present managers of our wildlife refuse to address. During the bear referendum campaign I debated the Director of the Wildlife Division of the department at a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Presque Isle. A woman at the meeting asked him that in looking through some of the literature she found some of it quite cruel — and asked him to comment on that? There was literally a 45 second pause before he attempted to make some abstract argument about cruelty. The lengthy pause was telling — cruelty is not even on their radar screen. It simply does not enter into the equation when discussing wildlife issues and management.

The well documented brutal deaths involved in coyote snaring and clubbing was similarly disregarded. And yet a coyote is generically 99.5% the same animal as your pet dog. If we ever did what we did to a coyote it would surely be considered aggravated animal cruelty; a felony offense. Hunters and a department who have no sensitivity to animal suffering create a demeaning image to the general public.

Chasing a bear with a pack of hounds with radar collars can become gruesome when an exhausted bear turns and fights. The dogs can be maimed, crippled or killed. If the hounds overcome the bear the mauling of the animal can be merciless and protracted.

Cubs sometimes are brutally attacked by dogs or permanently separated or orphaned from their mother, and may eventually die of starvation, exposure or predation.

Hounding is very stressful to a chased bear that often trees itself. Terrified as the hounds relentlessly bark at the base of the tree, the bear can only wait to be found by the hunter and shot at point blank range, sometimes with the dogs tearing at the wounded or lifeless animal after it fails to the ground.

Then there is the issue of the dogs, the true hunters. A bear hound that chases an animal other than a bear can be severely punished.  A 50-year former Maine guide, trapper and bear hunter told us: “I’ve seen hunters beat their dogs so badly that it made me cringe. I used to have friends who I would not go hunting with because they were so cruel to their dogs. I‘ve seen hounds kicked so hard or beaten with a stiff club that ribs were broken.”

Are these the images we want for Maine hunting?

And thirdly, it is unnecessary. Throughout the referendum we argued that these practices were not necessary to manage bear populations given the low reproduction rate of black bears and the evidence from three states, Washington. Oregon and Colorado, similar to Maine in forest density and bear populations, that passed the same referendum. But still the major argument from bear referendum opponents was constantly the need to control bear populations with these practices. That cannot be used now. Bear hounding and trapping combined only make up 12% of the bears taken each year.

I will end by quoting a Bangor Daily News editorial two days after the election: “The results on a proposal to ban baiting, hounding and trapping bears was 47% yes to 53% percent no, a vote much closer than this region might have guessed. Advocates of the ban need only look at Maine’s shifting population to figure out that their time is coming – unless alert lawmakers act sooner.  A sensible step would be to separate baiting from trapping and hounding, protect the first and ban the latter.”

There is an opportunity here for legislators and sportsmen to be viewed as positive agents of change. Doggedness and divisive positions are ultimately not in the best interest of hunters and hunting. If inflexible hunting groups and the department continue to insist on no hunting restriction on any hunting practice, continue to exclude the non-consumptive users of wildlife, that far outnumber sportsmen, from meaningful opportunities in the decision process, and continue a rigid ideology that hardens positions, then I fear we will see an escalation of tensions between hunters and non-hunters, continued criticism of a department that serves a special interest group and not all its citizens, and the consideration of future referendums.

Contrary to what opponents like to use as a scare tactic we are neither radical nor unwilling to work with you or them. In that spirit to demonstrate our willingness to work towards a compromise in this long time contentious issue, I would like to offer a proposal that I am sure will not be readily accepted by some on our side, but I know compromise is required on most all legislation, and it eliminates the two most inhumane practices.

We propose to you that you pass a ban on hounding and trapping and we will not consider a future referendum on baiting; much in the context of the Bangor Daily News editorial recommendation. We get 12% and opponents get 88%; not a bad deal given that 47% of the voters wanted a ban not only on hounding and trapping, but baiting too. 

There is no compelling reason to insist on keeping these practices. Specific to hounding, first, there is no real economic hardship on what are a few bear hounding operations that operate for seven weeks. Second, we cannot believe the department needs or associates hounding as part of their “state-of-the-art bear management program.” Thirdly, you and hunters gain much needed goodwill with non-hunting majority. Lastly, you eliminate two of our poster animals depicting wildlife animal cruelty. This has never been about hunting — it is about these specific methods of killing.  Given what seems to be hardly an issue to fall on one’s sword for. Is it so much to give up bear hounding and trapping that makes up only 12% of the animals taken?

Isn’t an 88% win worthwhile accepting given the alternative of surely ratcheting up the friction between hunters and non-consumptive users of wildlife?

That is why I began my remarks by saying I believe what this committee and legislature do with these bills before you today will set the tone on wildlife issues for many years to come. I urge the Committee to vote ought-to-pass on L.D. 628. 

I would like to now comment briefly on L.D. 1460, “An Act to Ban Bear Hunting with Traps Except to Protect the Public.” I feel there is very little to say given the general knowledge of bear trapping after the bear referendum. 

Bear trapping with a leghold or cable trap is unimaginably cruel and senseless animal suffering that should have been banned a long time ago. It is embarrassing to all Mainers, non-hunters and hunters alike, that we remain the only, ONLY, state in the country that still allows this barbaric practice. The fact that we are the only state attests to our belief that a few radical sportsmen groups and the department will fight any hunting restriction on any hunting practice regardless of how inhumane, unsportsmanlike or unnecessary it is.

Are there really people in this room who believe it is hunting to allow someone to walk up to a magnificent animal like a black bear, a symbol of Maine’s wildlife, and shoot it from point blank range with a pistol while it is agonizing in a steel leghold trap? Does anyone really believe this is acceptable to be passed off as hunting? If it is, then in my view hunting in this state needs new leadership.

The department can, like other states, can find an alternative to trapping to do their bear research. And any amendment to this bill, such as a more humane trap will be viewed as a disingenuous attempt to keep the status quo. I think we all would agree that bears are very intelligent animals. When a bear becomes caught in the leg or cable trap, it realizes that it cannot escape and can goes mad furiously trying to free itself. A very noted former Maine bear guide tells of some bears that have literally chewed its foot off to escape. No more humane trap is going to change that or the unethical manner in which the kill is made. It is remarkable this practice is still allowed in a proud hunting state like Maine.

Everyone in this state saw the bear referendum television ads that had a hunter walking up to and shooting a bear while it agonized in pain and despair in a steel leghold trap. My guess is 90% to 95% of all Mainers today would vote to end bear trapping as a stand alone issue.

I hope the committee and legislature consider that more than sufficient to pass this legislation which should have been done a long time ago. I urge the committee to vote unanimously ought to pass on L.D.1460.  Thank you for considering this legislation and for taking the time to listen to my rather lengthy testimony; and I will try to answer any questions you may have. 

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