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Tuesday, 25 September 2018

MFOA Talking Points for the Bear Referendum
Written by Robert Fisk   
Saturday, 20 September 2014

Opposition Strategy

  • The opposition's alarmist strategy worked well in the 2004 bear referendum. Again in 2014, the opposition determined early on that the best strategy was to scare voters. Scare them with talk of radical animal-rights extremists. Scare them with fear of exploding bear populations. Scare them with threats of the beginning of the end of all hunting. Scare them by releasing a self-serving doom and gloom economic report. Scare them with stories of dangerous bears in backyards.


Maine Department of IF&W / Science / Overpopulation

  • Maine's Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife [DIF&W] has made a political decision, not a decision based on empirical evidence. As we saw in 2004 and again this year, there is an unholy alliance between the Department and the hunting opposition, who are connected philosophically, politically, socially and financially. The Department has an interest in seeing the woods managed to benefit sportsmen - licensing being a primary source of income. This historic relationship of the extremist hunting lobby and DIF&W does not represent an unbiased source and brings into question the Department's objectivity and credibility.


  • In the early 1990's, three states comparable to Maine in thick vegetation and forest - Oregon, Colorado and Washington - passed similar bear referendums and 20 years later, their bear populations have stabilized; nuisance complaint levels have not significantly increased, even with a substantial increase in human populations in all three states. Twenty years later and there has been no detectable adverse effect on bear populations or management.


  • Colorado's State Division of Wildlife wrote, "It has shown clearly that a black bear population can be efficiently and effectively managed without recourse to bait, hounds or a spring season."


  • The Maine DIF&W does not have a monopoly on science. You can analyze and interpret the data as you want, but if those three big game hunting states found a way to make it work, why can't Maine?
  • Black bears are the second slowest reproducing mammal in North America, and bear biologists have documented that bear population is largely controlled by the availability of their natural food resources.


  • DIF&W consistently warns the general public to keep food away from bears, but then carves out a special exemption for those who seek bear trophies. Baiting only exacerbates the possibility of human-bear conflict by habituating bears to human food and creating 'nuisance' incidences.


  • Over the past 10 years, Maine's bear population has grown almost 30%. If you go back to the early 1980's, that increase is by more than 250%. Clearly, baiting is not a viable wildlife management tool and in fact, it can be argued that it has biologically increased the bear population.


  • Despite being public employees paid by taxpayers, Maine DIF&W staff speak out whenever possible against the referendum and often participate in activities that are an unethical threat to the integrity of the electoral process.


Safety / Scare Tactics

  • In 2004, the opponents of the referendum had the slogan and mantra of "science" and "safety." We saw statements and TV ads implying that if the referendum passed, families and pets would be maimed and killed in their backyards. This fear mongering is repeated in 2014. The fact is bears are shy, intelligent, evasive, peaceful animals that avoid human contact. Not leaving food out and banging a few pots together is all that you need for safety. Not one person in Maine has ever been killed or even seriously injured by a Maine black bear.


  • This false safety issue was written about by Bangor Daily News outdoor columnist John Holyoke, a staunch opponent of the referendum, who wrote:
    "The alarmists have suggested that bears will attack people, eat their babies and terrorize us all. That's just hyperbole, and has no place in the upcoming debate."


  • If we have a bear nuisance problem, it will very likely be no more than the nuisance problems we have with deer and raccoons, and under existing Maine law, a problem bear can be killed. As humans continue to expand into wooded habitat, there has to be some social tolerance to these wildlife interactions.



  • Unfortunately, those in opposition to the ban, including Maine's DIF&W, never consider the inhumane component in the overall assessment of wildlife issues. Opponents espouse that nature is cruel, so why the fuss over how the animal suffers or dies? Nature may be harsh and unforgiving, but cruelty is a human construct. When will the hunting lobby ever even have a discussion on how much animal cruelty and suffering is too much? Does the end truly justify the inhumane means?


  • We respect the Maine hunting tradition. This referendum is not about stopping all hunting. It is about three specific methods of killing black bear that are especially inhumane. To wit: A wounded, baited bear with an arrow in its spine from an inexperienced trophy hunter can die a slow, agonizing death in the woods. If a bear turns and fights a pack of chasing hounds, the dogs can be maimed and killed. If they overtake the bear, the attack can be merciless. If the terrified bear is treed by the hounds and not killed by a clean shot, the falling animal can be gruesomely mauled while still alive. Shooting an exhausted, frightened bear from a tree branch is not humane. Shooting a bear at point blank range while it is trapped in a leg snare and desperately and agonizingly trying to escape is especially despicable. In addition, orphaned bear cubs will often die without their mother's protection.


  • The hounds are often regarded as another piece of hunting equipment rather than as a domestic pet. Dogs that chase secondary wildlife can be beaten badly and sometimes end up at local shelters, severely abused.


  • We are the only state in the nation that still allows all three of these hunting practices. Other states have chosen to be more humane about these methods. Why can't Maine?


Unsportsmanlike / Opposition and Maine's True Hunting Heritage

  • The common thread regarding these three methods of hunting is there is no fair chase. There is no fair chase in shooting an animal with its head in a bait bucket, treed by hounds or caught in a leg trap. In the definition of hunting, there is specific reference to the words "to pursue." When you do not have pursuit in hunting, it just becomes killing.


  • The Sportsman's Alliance of Maine [SAM], seems to believe that ethics are determined by individual choice. So if an individual has thought a situation through and an action isn't against the law, then it is ipso facto ethical. Hence, the extremist hunting lobby tirelessly works to prevent any legislation addressing unethical, needless or inhumane hunting practices.


  • States eliminating these practices have shown a marked increase in stock-and-shoot hunting and the purchase of bear hunting licenses. Why can't Maine enhance that dynamic as well and return to its true hunting tradition of tracking bears in their natural environment and at their natural food sources?


  • Each bear hunting season, about 7 million tons of junk food is placed around 5,000 bait sites in our woods. Is this the ecological, sporting and environmental image we want for this state?


  • The black bear is an iconic Maine wildlife symbol and the school emblem for our flagship university. Why do we treat it like a dump rat?


  • Maine's hunting lobby has an unshakeable, intransigent, no compromise position it refuses to alter and arrogantly dismisses change as the work of animal rights extremists. The fact is most Mainers are against needless animal cruelty and suffering. It is the hunting lobby that adheres to the positions of some of the most extreme hunting organizations in the country, refusing any compromise, even if it demeans Maine's real hunting tradition. A tradition in which hunters humbly respected the animals they harvested.


Economic Impact

  • More than 250,000 people travel to our state every year as non-consumptive users of Maine wildlife in recreational activities such as wildlife viewing, kayaking, outdoor camping, hiking, bird-watching and wildlife photography, outnumbering Maine sportsmen 5 to 1 in numbers and economic impact. Supporting the referendum will send a message that Maine's wildlife belongs to all Mainers.


  • We have the opportunity to make a positive economic impact in which guides and secondary businesses could transition into meeting fair bear hunter needs and the growing demand for ecotourism, making them more diversified and poised for success in the future. All businesses must change to survive and thrive and the passage of this referendum can be viewed as an economic growth opportunity.


  • Income from bear hunting is less than 2% of all hunting and fishing revenue to the Maine economy. The opponents put out a doom and gloom economic report in 2004 that was completely discredited. In 2013, the Maine Office of Fiscal and Program review found there would be no negative economic impacts from ending these practices here in Maine.


  • Bear hunting is a small industry primarily supported by unskilled, lazy, out-of-state, trophy hunters who want to come to Maine for a quick kill to bring home a bear head or rug. It is a business that the state should willingly disassociate itself from. Moreover, economic activity based on cruelty should not be justified.


R. Fisk, Jr.
Sept. 2014

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