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Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Bear debate changed publicís view of hunt
Written by Robert Fisk, Jr.   
Thursday, 29 December 2005
Op-Ed Maine Sunday Telegram (11/20/05)
by Robert Fisk, Jr., director of Maine Friends of Animals

Deirdre Fleming’s Outdoor column “Sportsman’s Alliance taps unity“ (Telegram 10/30/05) had a substantive omission and lacked a balanced perspective. The opening sentence read: “The bear referendum last fall did wonders to unite the sportsmen’s clubs around the state.”† What Ms. Fleming neglected to consider is how did the bear referendum affect the proponents of it? The answer is they increased their support substantially and far more so than any growth within sportsmen’s clubs.†
The general public awareness resulting from the referendum means these bear “hunting” practices will never be viewed the same, and with it came a base of support that has built the ranks of animal protection advocates like never before. Equally important, with it has come support from many of those who enjoy Maine’s wildlife in a non-consumptive way that do not consider themselves animal protection people. It also should be pointed out that the number of hunters in Maine has declined for 15 years in a row while the number of people appreciating our wildlife without killing them has grown every year in that same period.

What grows our ranks even more is the give-no-quarter, fall on your sword, no compromise attitude by the more radical hunting and trapping groups that now control Maine’s wildlife management decisions in an unholy alliance with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Doggedness and divisive positions are not ultimately in the best interest of hunters and hunting. Nevertheless, they persist as the opposition continues to grow.

A perfect example is Maine remains the only state in the country that still allows the barbaric and needlessly cruel practice of trapping a bear. SAM and the Department of IF&W response is that is fine, it shows Maine independence. In my view such intransigence will ultimately be their undoing. There is still time to find compromise, but there is no indication that is coming any time soon.

Maine Friends of Animals today has an active nine member board of directors, fifteen state-wide District Coordinators, our membership has doubled in the last two years, we have added paid staff, and support comes from non-animal protection folks, including many hunters. We feel more beholden to advance these issues than ever before.† Increasingly there is a feeling that this proprietary and inflexible attitude of certain hunting groups and the Department make them incapable of ending any hunting practice no matter how cruel, unethical, or unnecessary it may be.

Whatever you make of the closeness in the vote in the bear referendum and its ramifications, one unquestionable result is that bear hunting in this state will never be viewed the same. The public awareness that came from the referendum changed all that.

A current legislative directive to the Department of IF&W to seriously review the bear hunting practices in this state is an opportunity for the Department and sportsmen to be viewed as positive agents of change. 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 from any meaningful opportunity to affect change, and continue a rigid ideology that hardens positions, then I fear we will see a greater division and escalation of tensions between hunters and non-hunters, growing criticism of a department that continues to serve a special interest group and not all its citizens, more contentious legislation, and calls for future referendums. Sides will be polarized like never before.

And our numbers will continue grow. †

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