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Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Another chance to stop brutality
Written by Robert Fisk   
Tuesday, 08 May 2007

Once again bear-hunting practices will come under review, with a public hearing on Tuesday at the Augusta Civic Center regarding a bill to end bear trapping in Maine. Many at that hearing will speak of the agony of this intelligent animal frightened by its inability to escape, vainly struggling in a barbaric device that only Maine allows.

The Sportsman's Alliance of Maine (SAM) and the Maine Trappers Association (MTA) will again lead the opposition to this bill, and herein lies the real issue. Those two organizations form as conservative and inflexible a hunting lobby as there is in this country, as exemplified by the fact that every state has outlawed bear trapping but one -- Maine. I suggest Maine sportsmen take a look at the politics of these extreme positions.

The dictionary defines "hunt" as 1. "to pursue (game or wild animals) for food or sport" or 2. "to seek out, to search for." There is one common thread in the three methods Maine allows in the killing of black bears: there is no hunt or pursuit. There is no pursuit in shooting a bear from a tree stand with its head in a bait bucket, a hound-treed bear or a trapped or snared bear. Hunting without pursuit is just killing.

Without restrictions on how one pursues game, the "hunt" loses meaning. Are unethical practices and policies that make a mockery of fair chase what Maine sportsmen want to be associated with?

Whatever you make of the 2004 bear referendum and its close results, bear hunting in this state will never be viewed the same way; the public awareness that came from the referendum changed everything. It was widely believed that if the referendum was on just hounding and trapping, it would have won overwhelmingly. SAM and MTA may have no compunction in treating wildlife inhumanely, but the public at large does.

Hunting numbers continue to drop in conjunction with the rapid growth of non-hunters moving to southern Maine, yet extreme positions on wildlife issues by Maine's hunting lobby continue.

Non-consumptive users of wildlife -- such as sightseers, kayakers, primitive outdoor campers, bird watchers, hikers and photographers -- outnumber all hunters and fisherman combined in Maine 2 to 1. For the past 15 years, the number of non-consumptive users of wildlife has grown each year while the number of hunters has decreased yearly -- another political and economic reality the hunting lobby disregards

Many times the unholy alliance of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife department and the Maine hunting lobby could have stepped forward and been positive agents for change, but at every juncture they block change to any hunting practice regardless of how inhumane, unethical or unnecessary the killing method may be.

Ideological doggedness and divisive positions are ultimately not in the best interest of hunters. These inflexible policies could bring more drastic changes forced by public demand.

Maine sportsmen and legislators should consider what they want for Maine and its hunting image. Most will remember the referendum television ad of the agony of a Maine black bear in a trap as a "hunter" walks up and shoots him with a pistol. Is this the image legislators and sportsmen want for the state?

In 2000, the Maine Sportsman did a poll of SAM's membership and the majority, by far, disapproved of hunting bears with hounds and traps. Seven years later, the Legislature is again dealing with a practice the Portland Press Herald wrote should have been outlawed long ago.

In the long run, Maine sportsmen should consider joining groups such as the Izaak Walton League or form their own organization to give them a voice other than the extremist hunting lobby, whose rigid ideology escalates tensions between hunters and non-hunters, increases criticism of a fish and wildlife department that continues to serve a special interest group and not all citizens, demeans Maine's hunting image, prompts more contentious legislation and incites calls for future referendums.

In the short run, legislators can make sure Maine does not embarrassingly remain the only state in the country to allow the trapping of a bear.

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