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Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Task force seeks bear-baiting study
Written by Robert Fisk   
Wednesday, 08 March 2006

Thursday, March 02, 2006 - Bangor Daily News

A task force that reviewed Maine's bear-hunting rules has recommended banning steel-jawed leg traps and requested additional study into how bait popular with sportsmen is affecting the size and health of the state's bear population.

But the proposals did little to settle the intense debate between hunting and animal rights groups over tactics used by bear hunters. In fact, at least two anti-hunting groups that participated in the task force are hinting at another voter referendum to change Maine's bear-hunting laws.

"It is a wake-up call to those nonhunters and ethical hunters who are eventually going to want some input on wildlife decisions," Robert Fisk Jr., president of Maine Friends of Animals and the leader of the 2004 bear-hunting referendum, said in a statement.

The so-called "bear working group," which was organized and led by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, made four recommendations in a final report released this week:

  • Eliminate steel-jawed foot traps.
  • Allow trappers to use only one bear trap at a time, instead of two.
  • Instruct DIF&W to study the impact of bait on bear behavior, health, reproduction and survival rates.
  • Instruct DIF&W to collect more information on the number of bear trappers active in Maine, their activities and the types of equipment they use.

The first two recommendations would require DIF&W to initiate a rule change. The second two are contingent on funding, which is already scarce in the department.

The task force brought together many of the major players from both sides of the unsuccessful referendum campaign in November 2004 to end bear trapping, hounding and baiting in Maine. Not surprisingly, the parties didn't always get along.

The four meetings were often tense, frustrating affairs as representatives from both sides refused to budge on the major issues, several participants said.

"A lot of it was a rehash of the bear referendum," said Skip Trask, who represented the Maine Trappers Association and the Maine Professional Guides Association. "I guess the way I viewed the whole thing is just another chapter in the never-ending battle between those who want to ban hunting and trapping and those of us who want to enjoy those traditional activities."

The only area where most parties appear to agree is in their universal displeasure with the results.

Fisk derided the report as a missed opportunity for DIF&W to be viewed as "positive agents of change" that will instead end by further polarization of the two sides. Fisk also accused DIF&W of an "unholy alliance" with the hunting lobby despite the fact that the majority of Mainers do not hunt or fish.

Sportsman's Alliance of Maine's George Smith, meanwhile, charged the department with caving to political pressure from the animal rights organizations on the trapping issues. Smith said SAM opposed the working group's formation but participated anyway.

"We made an enormous effort a year and a half ago to defend those [trapping] practices ... and we won," said Smith, SAM's executive director. "It's disappointing that so soon afterward the department is taking away some of our victory."

The Wildlife Alliance of Maine, an organization formed after the referendum's defeat to counter the powerful hunting lobby in Augusta, issued a statement decrying the report more than two weeks before the final version was released.

The WAM statement said the sugary bait used by many bear hunters may contribute to the growing bear population by keeping the animals well fed. The group also alleges that bait may cause bears to acquaint humans with food, leading to more nuisance bears as well as easier shots for hunters.

WAM executive director Daryl DeJoy said his group has tried unsuccessfully to enact "reasonable" changes through the Legislature and through DIF&W. He said that he personally expects to see a referendum question on trapping in 2007.

"What they are going to see is another referendum this is more pointedly, more directly aimed at [hunting practices] that are unacceptable to the general public in Maine," DeJoy said.

The only participant interviewed Wednesday who put a somewhat positive spin on the working group was Don Kleiner with the Maine Bowhunters Association, although even he was disappointed that the report didn't more heavily emphasize the need for additional research.

"I am a person who firmly believes that listening to someone else is always a worthwhile opportunity, even if you don't agree," Kleiner said.
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