JOHN HOLYOKE

New bear law could confuse hunters, trappers

Posted Aug. 31, 2011, at 5:45 p.m.

In its last session, the Maine Legislature passed into law a bill that draws a thin line between bear trapping and bear hunting, and allows those who trap a bear to also harvest one through one of several hunting methods in the same calendar year.

That’s the short version of the story.

The long version is a bit more complicated, Maine Game Warden Jim Fahey pointed out Tuesday. And it’s that long version that prompted the proactive warden to reach for his phone and ask for help in clarifying the situation.

In short, though the new law exists on paper, it isn’t legally binding until 90 days after the end of the legislative session — Sept. 28 in this case. And because bear hunting over bait began Monday, with trapping set to begin Thursday, there’s a potential for misinformed hunters and trappers to unwittingly end up on the wrong side of the men and women in green, who are tasked with enforcing the state’s fish and game laws.

“There’s a regulations summary that we work out, that we circulate. It isn’t available yet,” Fahey said, explaining that corrections and some back-and-forth between the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the printer have caused a slight delay. “So some of this information would only be available online, and I recognize that not everybody would have a computer or be able to get online.”

Fahey said licensed trappers can take a bear on Thursday or later, but if they choose to shoot a second bear during 2011, they will have to wait until Sept. 28 to do so. Similarly, if a hunter takes a bear during the baiting season, which runs through Sept. 24, they must wait until after Sept. 28 if they intend to trap one.

“This year the confusion that I’m concerned about is that maybe people heard about this law passing — which it did — but it’s not in effect until Sept. 28,” Fahey said. “I’m trying to safeguard against someone unintentionally taking two bears, by trap and by gun, and thinking they were taking advantage of an opportunity when in fact that opportunity isn’t available until the 28th.”

Thankfully, records indicate that Fahey and the department don’t have to get the word out to that many folks in order to avoid legal consequences for violators: According to the last available DIF&W wildlife division report, only 72 bears were taken by trappers in 2009.

Legislature passed key bear law

While providing an opportunity for bear trappers to take a second bear while hunting didn’t qualify as “emergency legislation” that would have taken effect immediately, the legislature did pass another bear-related bill that rose to that level and is enforceable today.

Fahey explained that a new law requires those who deposit bear bait on land they don’t own must have landowner permission to do so.

The fact that such a requirement didn’t previously exist is stunning, and filling that loophole was essential if hunters are to remain on good terms with those whose lands they use.

“There were laws regarding how close to a home [bait could be placed], how far from a road, how far from a dump, labeling [bait with the name of the hunter who had placed it],” Fahey said. “There were company policies [by large landowners] that required people to get permission, but in and of itself, I could have gone onto your woodlot and dumped a barrel of bait.”

Due to the recently enacted emergency legislation, that’s no longer the case. And that’s a good thing, Fahey agrees.

“It’s common sense that you’d … work with the landowner, but it wasn’t law until this year,” Fahey said.

Better late than never.

Bear, by the numbers

While we’re talking about bear hunting, some figures out of the DIF&W’s 2010 wildlife division annual report may be of interest.

I field several questions each season about bears and bear hunting, and many folks are curious about bear-hunting statistics. If you’re one of those people, here’s a numerical snapshot for you:

In 2009, a total of 3,486 bears were killed and tagged by hunters in Maine. Of those, the vast majority — 2,935 bears — were shot over bait.

Another 329 were taken by hunters using dogs, 72 were tagged by bear trappers, and just 65 were shot by deer hunters who took the opportunity to shoot a bear while afield.

Also interesting: Although Maine has a thriving bear population, most of our bears are taken by hunters “from away.”

In all, 2,208 bears were shot by nonresident hunters in 2009. Maine residents accounted for just 1,278 bears harvested.

Not surprisingly, considering that last statistic and the time commitment of maintaining bait sites across vast territories, a whopping 2,223 successful bear hunters — 64 percent of those who filled their tags — did so with assistance of registered Maine guides.

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