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Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Bear Referendum Opponents Avoid Real Issues and Rely on Scare Tactics Instead
Written by Robert Fisk, Jr.   
Wednesday, 20 October 2004

 Bangor Daily News Op-Ed

The reason we have a bear referendum is because killing a black bear in Maine today with the use of bait, hounds and traps is needless animal cruelty and offends ethical hunters.  Shooting an animal while its head is in a bait bucket, having dogs and a bear in vicious fights, having cubs mauled by hounds or shot at bait sites (258 last year), shooting from the base of a tree at a terrified hound treed bear, or walking up to shoot an animal agonizing in pain in a leghold trap or snare is cruel, period. 

The second reason it is unfair. The dictionary defines “hunt” as “to pursue (game or wild animals) for food or sport”. There is one common thread in these three “hunting” practices --- there is no pursuit.  Hunting without pursuit is just killing. That is why so many hunters are supporting this referendum. They strongly believe these specific hunting methods make a mockery of fair chase, demeans hunting and is not the outdoor image we want for Maine.

But the opponents to this referendum never talk about these two fundamental reasons for this referendum. Never.

They have long since determined that they cannot defend these inhumane and unethical forms of hunting and therefore the best strategy is to scare voters. Scare them with “radical animal rights extremists” and scare them by releasing a self-serving doom and gloom economic report which was completely discredited. But the opponent’s prime scare tactic is dangerous bears in people’s back yards.

They want you to believe that “[bears] will endanger the lives of people and pets” and “threaten our families” which is used in their public appearances, on their television ads, in their literature and on their web site. It is a false argument based on a false assumption with a false conclusion.

First, opponents got the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to announce its support of this premise of a bear overpopulation problem. Voters need to realize that, unfortunately, the DIF&W, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and the opponents of this referendum are personally, politically and ideologically connected. They walk in lockstep on wildlife issues and reject any hunting restriction no matter how cruel, unethical, unnecessary and unpopular it is in Maine.

The degree in which the Department has been actively politicking for the opposition seriously draws into question its objectivity, undermines its arguments and hurts its credibility. DIF&W continues to join in on this alarmist strategy and makes public statements that incite the misconception of imminent public danger. The Department has made a political decision, not a scientific decision, because there is just no empirical evidence to support its position.

There has never been one study done to support the overpopulation premise and, in fact, the evidence points to just the opposite. In the 1990’s, Colorado, Oregon and Washington - states similar to Maine in dense forests and bear populations - have reported no bear management problems since voters overwhelmingly ended these practices. Bear populations are stable and fair-chase bear hunting is alive and well.  

Secondly, bears have a very low reproduction rate and are probably the most self-regulating animal in North America. Their population is largely controlled by the availability of their natural food sources. Thirdly, bear baiting is not a “tradition.” It has been going on for only about 20-25 years, when animals were first shot at rural dump sites. We did not have a bear management problem before then.

Lynn Rogers, Ph.D., of the Wildlife Research Institute, probably the most knowledgeable bear biologist in the country. He has studied black bears for over 30 years and contends, despite common folklore, that they are not aggressive and are, in fact, are “shy, intelligent, allusive, timid and peaceful animal that avoids human contact.” Bears need to be respected, not feared.

In the very unlikely event a problem bear would occur, the language in the referendum allows for an exception to kill the animal “to protect property and public safety.” In addition, Maine already has a state law that allows a game warden or private property owner to kill any animal that threatens the individual, pets or property. The referendum does not repeal this statute.  

Finally, not one person has ever been killed or even been seriously injured by a Maine black bear. Not one.

The bottom line is there is no evidence that we will have a bear management problem, an increased nuisance problem, or that bears will be a danger to Maine citizens. Trophy hunters (bear heads and rugs) in the three aforementioned states made these same emotional, fear-based arguments in an attempt to defend their cruel hobby and the voters soundly rejected their arguments.

What this referendum does is simply end specific inhumane and unethical forms of hunting that Maine should have stopped long ago. The opposition, void of arguments to justify these disgraceful practices, is determined to cultivate this false argument and scare tactic to create an inflammatory issue of a non-issue.

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