My organization over the last six years has worked very hard to show Maine residents how unfairly wildlife is treated in our state. The most recent example of the lack of impartiality and blatant disregard for the democratic process came in the form of a bill designed to allow for an earlier than usual open water fishing season.
There was no objection from the general public to this bill. The problem came when the members of the Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife decided to make — at the last minute and with no public announcement — several additions to the bill that had nothing to do with an early fishing season.
The first addendum to this bill allowed hunters to use six dogs, up from only four previously allowed, to hunt for bears. Obviously, four dogs running across people’s land and violating landowner wishes were not enough.
This year my office has fielded nine calls complaining about hunters running dogs across people’s property without permission. In these cases, the dogs were being used to chase coyotes, Maine’s current scapegoat for anyone disinterested in science and history.
The second addendum actually directly involved coyotes and allowed people to bypass Maine’s law outlawing wanton waste of wildlife and to kill coyotes without the need to use their fur or any other part for anything — in effect, to kill them purely for the killing.
Coyotes serve a very crucial role in Maine. They are one of our top predators, and without a healthy predator population, we will not have a healthy prey population. Coyotes also help keep mesocarnivore populations down, and we are already hearing complaints of higher populations of raccoons and skunks (mesocarnivores) in areas where coyotes are being recklessly killed in a misguided and scientifically indefensible attempt to help deer populations where habitat has been recklessly ruined by tree cutting operations, particularly in northern Maine.
Coyotes or not, deer populations will continue to decline overall in areas without suitable habitat. This is easily obtainable information that our deer biologists and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife are very familiar with.
The committee’s absolute inability to understand the science and biology behind all this seems to matter little in their decision-making process. It seems as though if they do not like the evidence, they simply ignore it.
There are many coyote haters who are encouraging the resurrection of the failed coyote snaring program, ignoring the fact that snaring is indiscriminate and cruel. Currently, Canadian biologists tracking cougars in areas where snares are allowed for wolves have found four cougars this year dead from snares. There should be no gray area where snares are concerned. They are more dangerous to wildlife in general than any trap in current use and should continue to be banned.
The committee’s final addendum also had to do with the killing of coyotes. It allowed people to put carcasses on iced over ponds and lakes in order to draw coyotes to this “bait” so they could be shot. The law says the person needs to remove the carcass before ice out, but I suspect many carcasses will end up on the bottom of that body of water, likely causing contamination.
The committee knows this and chose to clandestinely pass this and the other addendums within this bill in typical arrogant fashion, led by Sen. Bruce Bryant, a champion of the minority extremist end of the hunting community. The entire process that carried this bill through to law was a model of impropriety and exclusion of the public process and is one more reason for consolidation of our committees dealing with natural resources.
Until there is balance and equity (hunters and trappers make up approximately 13 percent of Maine residents, while the committee is represented 12-1 by that same constituency), there will only be more of this same type of sneakiness and underhanded double dealing where governance of our wildlife is concerned.
Daryl DeJoy of Penobscot is the executive director of the Wildlife Alliance of Maine.