Give voters chance to end bear hunting cruelty

Randy Cross, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, looks at the ID number that was tattooed on a bear's upper lip on Feb. 19, during a study of wild bears near Ashland.
Brian Feulner | BDN
Randy Cross, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, looks at the ID number that was tattooed on a bear's upper lip on Feb. 19, during a study of wild bears near Ashland. Buy Photo
By Katie Hansberry, Special to the BDN
Posted June 12, 2013, at 12:24 p.m.

Maine harbors some of the cruelest methods of killing bears. They happen deep in the woods, largely free from public scrutiny, but most would be horrified to learn the truth about hounding, baiting and trapping.

Hounding is the cruel practice of training packs of dogs to harass bears for miles until, in sheer exhaustion, the bear takes refuge in a tree. Then the bears are usually blasted off the branch by a shooter, who did little more than follow the high-tech GPS collars worn by the hounds to his trophy. All too often, the bear doesn’t make it up the tree in time and a bear-dog fight ensues, which can lead to serious injuries and even death for either animal. The dogs are often considered little more than hunting equipment, denied proper veterinary care and adequate food. Maine shelters report unwanted bear hounds dumped at their doors.

Baiting and trapping are equally awful. Bears are shot while feasting on rotting doughnuts and pizza, or they die after suffering in the painful grips of a snare trap for hours on end. There is no reason bears should succumb to such inhumane and unsporting methods.

This year, a coalition of groups, including The Humane Society of the United States, backed “The Bear Protection Act,” legislation that would prohibit cruel methods that Maine has sanctioned for far too long in the hounding and baiting of bears.

At the bill’s public hearing, the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife committee took the unusual step of immediately voting on the bill, just minutes after hearing testimony. Typically, at least a week goes by before a committee votes on a bill, so they have time to properly consider the issue. The committee’s failure to give the bill any serious consideration was a blatant subversion of the democratic process.

As an organization, the HSUS has a long tradition of finding common ground and working toward solutions with groups with whom we might not always see eye to eye. We did just that in Maine three years ago when we partnered with industry to end the extreme confinement of farm animals. We hoped we might be able to make a similar agreement on the treatment of bears, but the opposition refused to consider a compromise.

The bill not moving forward was disappointing, as was the opposition’s inability to compromise, but these conditions perfectly illustrate why this issue is ripe for the ballot. Since the Legislature failed to act, and other stakeholders don’t want to find common ground, those of us who want to see Maine’s bears protected from cruelty have no choice but to let voters decide at the ballot.

But certain groups in Augusta, like the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, are afraid of what might happen if voters are given the chance to weigh in. They’ve dreamt up a heavy-handed power grab designed to silence the voters: LD 1303, a constitutional amendment to prohibit citizen initiatives that limit hunting and fishing. Bear cruelty apologists and their political allies are pushing this unprecedented power grab that would amend the Constitution to take away Mainers’ voting rights. Yes, that’s right. They are so afraid of what the voters might have to say about the cruelty of bear baiting, hounding and trapping that they’ve introduced voter suppression legislation.

They want to take away the voting rights we’ve had for more than 100 years just because they’re afraid the voters might disagree with them. The ability for citizens to have a voice is the foundation of our democracy. Can you imagine if all special interest groups were able to twist the democratic process to cater to their own agenda? Pretty soon we’d be living in a dictatorship.

We, as Mainers, need to stand up to the politicians who want to take away our voting rights. Call your legislators today and urge them to protect your voting rights by opposing LD 1303. Maine’s wildlife and democracy depend on it.

Katie Hansberry is the Maine state director of the Humane Society of the United States.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/06/12/opinion/contributors/give-voters-chance-to-end-bear-hunting-cruelty/ printed on December 21, 2014