AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine lawmakers voted Monday to continue allowing bear hunters in the state to use traps and dogs, maintaining the status of the law since voters made the same decision seven years ago.
While voting 11-0 to kill a bill that would have outlawed the use of traps and dogs, the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee kept alive other bear hunting proposals for further consideration. Two members were absent from Monday’s vote on the trapping and dog bill.
Similar proposals have come up and been rejected since 2004, when Maine voters defeated a referendum proposal to outlaw bear trapping and hunting bear with bait or dogs. Supporters of the proposed ban had portrayed baiting, trapping and use of dogs as unsportsmanlike and unnecessary.
No one spoke in favor of the latest bill Monday before the committee rejected it. But other bear hunting bills are still pending in committee after hearings.
A bill seeking to establish a spring bear hunting season, from the third Monday in May to the fourth Saturday in June, drew mixed reactions.
Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade, said he was motivated to sponsor the bill by a constituent who said the spring hunt would help Maine sporting camps. Keschl acknowledged divided views on the bill, including some who think it’s a bad idea and others who believe a strong bear population is related to the decrease of deer in some parts of Maine.
The state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which testified as neutral on the bill, said a spring hunt can be an appropriate bear management option that does not adversely affect the state’s bear population.
“Nevertheless, when discussing the merits of spring bear hunting, there is more to be considered than just biology,” said DIF&W biologist Sandy Ritchie.
A significant increase in the bear harvest and reduction in the bear population “may undermine the economic contribution that bears provide to the rural economy,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie also noted that the spring hunt has precedent and was conducted as late as 1981, when the state stopped it because the bear kill exceeded management objectives.
An opponent of the spring hunt bill, Katie Lisnik of the Humane Society of the United States, said spring bear hunting will “without a doubt, result in the orphaning and death of a number of bear cubs who are entirely dependent on their mothers for sustenance, care and protection.”
Lisnik called a spring hunt “reckless, inhumane and unnecessary” and said three-fourths of the states that allow bear hunting prohibit spring bear hunting.
A third bill would shift the open season for hunting bears with dogs back, by one week. Doing so would reduce an overlap with the open season on bear without dogs, said Rep. Stephen Wood, R-Sabattus.