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Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Is Maine’s Wildlife Management at a Crossroads?
Tuesday, 05 April 2005
Almost half of Maine’s voters want to see an end to bear baiting, hounding and trapping. The issue of how we kill wildlife has been brought to the public forefront like never before. The referendum significantly raised the awareness of wildlife animal cruelty, unethical hunting practices and how we manage our wildlife in Maine. The referendum flushed out the fundamental reason we had a referendum – the complete control of wildlife issues by a handful of legislators, a special interest group, notably the Maine Sportsman’s Alliance (SAM) and a state agency leadership that are politically, ideologically, personally and financially connected. One has to look no further then the fact that 12 of the 13 members of last year’s Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife members were also members of SAM, and the present Deputy Commissioner of the Department of IF&W was a SAM lobbyist. 
It is a group that wants no hunting restriction on any hunting practice regardless of how inhumane, unsportsmanlike, unnecessary or unpopular they are. This control by a few and their agenda meant that all bills they didn’t like died in committee including all bear bills. It was a classic example of why we have the referendum process.

The referendum brought a much needed public light on the fact that those who enjoy Maine’s wildlife in a non-consumptive way, who far outnumber sportsmen, have very little ability to influence wildlife legislation. This natural resource belongs to all Maine citizens, not an association (SAM) of only 11,000 Maine hunters, who hold extreme positions on hunting and guns.

What needs to change:

1. Those that enjoy Maine’s wildlife in a non-consumptive way, such as wildlife viewing, nature walks, primitive outdoor camping, bird watching, kayaking, outdoor photography, etc. represent nearly twice the revenue brought to the state then from all hunting and fishing revenue. Eco-tourism is on a fifteen-year increase while hunting numbers have been on the decline during this same period. Associations that represent these non-consumptive users need to be more political and demand meaningful participation in decisions. This is a sleeping giant that could make a difference if coalesced.  

2. Legislative conditions and the make-up of the Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife that statutorily mandates what our Department of IF&W shall do has to change. The legislative leadership must appointment non-hunters to this committee.

3. The funding from for the Department of IF&W has to come from something other than hunting and fishing licenses. This dedicated funding has engrained sportsmen with a proprietary attitude toward wildlife issues and the Department. General fund monies need to be used and non-consumptive users should be willing to pay their fair share.

4.  The IF&W Advisory Council needs a more balanced representation of interest groups with a change in the make-up of the Council and its duties. It should be an independent council allowing for more diversified opinions and fresh ideas instead of the present rubberstamping of the Commissioner.  

5.  Animal cruelty has to be considered in wildlife management. Many still have the image of a black bear agonizing in a steel leghold trap knowing it cannot escape.  A useless coyote snaring program allowed 60 percent of these snared canines to slowly strangle to death over three days and / or be clubbed to death. A coyote is genetically 99% the same animal as a domestic dog. If this was done to a pet dog it surely would be aggravated animal cruelty, which is a felony offense. Cruelty is not even on their radar screen and its time it becomes a factor in considering hunting and wildlife practices.  

6. Hunters that don’t agree with the present extreme hunting agenda need to speak out just like they did in the bear referendum, and the recent Sunday hunting push by SAM that now divides even former SAM allies. Be true to your hunting tradition, and move to clean up the image of hunting by policing your own ranks, respecting the animals you kill and promote hunting ethics.  The more the extremists control your agenda the more this negative image benefits anti-hunters.

A Bangor Daily News editorial a day after the election stated “Advocates of the ban need only to 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 two.” We have a bear trapping bill and a bear hounding bill before the IF&W Committee; if the same ‘no restriction on any hunting practice’ groups prevail, the battle will ultimately tarnish all hunters, create a greater divide among hunters and non-hunters, and likely stimulate other referendums.

Thus far the indications have not been favorable. SAM and the Maine Trappers Association has defiantly said it will fight the bear trapping bills even though Maine remains the only state in the country that still allows this barbaric practice. SAM called for a constitutional amendment that would end wildlife ballot initiatives simply to protect their influence on wildlife matters. It is time to smell the Starbucks, it is time for common sense inclusion and compromise.

Far right sportsman organizations and their legislative and department allies have hijacked wildlife management and their intransigence will be their Achilles heel. Hunters in Maine may be at a crossroads if they continue to dismiss the majority of Maine citizens with their proprietary attitude. Doggedness and divisive positions are not in the best interest of hunters, hunting or Maine. It is time for hunters to consider alternative leadership. Leaders who are not bound by inflexible and rigid ideology that would rather see hunters become a part of the cutting edge and be viewed as positive agents for change.

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