What do you do when faced with a bully that is ruthless, bigger than you and has more money than you can imagine? In Maine, we don’t back down. We get some help and fight.
The Humane Society of the United States, (not associated with area humane society animal shelters) is a deep-pocketed, out-of-state, anti-hunting, anti-sportsmen group with a $100 million annual budget and $200 million in assets. It thrives on bringing litigation and anti-hunting referendums into small states such as Maine. It raises money from all over the world and then use the money to stop hunting in small, poor states such as Maine. It led the last failed bear hunting ban referendum 10 years ago, and the organization is laying the groundwork for another.
This session, HSUS backed legislation, LD 1474, introduced by Rep. Denise Harlow, D-Portland, and presented on May 10, which among several things attempted to ban trapping bear and hunting bear with dogs. In an unusual move, upon completion of the public hearing, the Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife moved immediately into work session and unanimously voted to kill the bill. This was good news for sportsmen, but what hasn’t been told is what happened to Don Kleiner, executive director of the Maine Professional Guides Association, and me just a few days prior to the public hearing.
Five HSUS lobbyists, including their Washington liaison, summoned Don and me to an impromptu meeting in the closed state office building cafeteria. As an experienced ex-state legislator, I have seen the dark side of partisan negotiations, but even I was shocked by what I heard next: “We have $3 million dollars, polling data that says we can win a bear referendum in Maine, and if SAM will support LD 1474, HSUS will not submit a referendum to ban trapping and hounding. If SAM doesn’t support LD 1474, HSUS will add baiting to their bill and go to referendum, and Mainers would likely lose baiting, hounding and trapping.”
They went on to say if they win, they will continue to push for more referendums in Maine.
Kleiner then asked, “Why bears?” The answer: “We oppose all predator hounding.” If HSUS is successful in banning bear hounding, trapping and baiting, you can rest assured there will be further attempts at banning all predator-hounding methods, as well as many other referendums of their choosing.
Why would HSUS try such a bold extortion play? In the past, HSUS has had the reputation of an extreme fringe organization and, frankly, was not taken seriously. In the last two years, though, it has transformed itself by hiring the powerful and politically well-connected Portland law firm of Verrill Dana and hiring new lobbyists to run the organization. In addition, according to Verrill Dana lobbyists, HSUS has been been discussing its legislation with outdoor blogger George Smith.
Smith has written in his blog and stated publicly that he believes it would be difficult to mount a fundraising and organizational campaign against HSUS and that the sportsmen community is economically crippled. Perhaps HSUS, with his unwitting help, sees an opportunity in Maine to strike while the sportsmen community is vulnerable? Well, let me set the record straight: Reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated.
What can we do in the face of such ruthless tactics, wealth and influence? Organize, fight and make noise.
SAM will start this defense of our Maine way of life by supporting House Republican Leader Kenneth Fredette of Newport, who has introduced bipartisan legislation, LD 1303. LD 1303 proposes a constitutional amendment that would enshrine the rights of Maine residents to hunt and fish, forever. The legislation would take away the ability of wealthy, out-of-state interests to manipulate our referendum process to ban the harvesting of wildlife as a management tool but still allow the Legislature and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to regulate and reasonably manage wildlife.
Our organization will not wait for HSUS to announce its latest referendum. We are already organizing outdoor organizations and those that care about our outdoor future.
I have spent 50 years living in the state of Maine, and in that time I have watched the rich and deep traditions of hunting and fishing slowly erode. Consequently, those who would ban our traditions and heritage have filled the void. Sportsmen must wake up and pay attention to those manipulating our lawmaking and referendum systems. There is a new player at our political door. It is clothed like a sheep but is as ruthless as a wolf.
David Trahan is executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.