AUGUSTA, Maine — Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting on Monday delivered more than 78,000 signatures to Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s office in their attempt to place a ban on bear baiting, hounding and trapping on November’s ballot.
The group said signatures for the initiative were gathered in 417 cities and towns throughout the state during the past four months.
“This is a very important issue to Mainers across the state,” said Katie Hansberry, campaign director, after delivering the petitions. “Unfortunately, Maine has the notorious distinction of being the only state that allows all three of these inhumane, unsporting and unnecessary practices.”
Bear baiting is the use of food by hunters to lure bears to a chosen location where they can be easily shot from close range. Hounding involves the use of trained dogs to assist in a bear hunt. Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting says the practice is unfair to the bears and dangerous for the dogs.
According to a fact sheet provided by the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, baiting, hounding and trapping are essential methods of bear population management. Roughly 80 percent of bears killed in Maine are lured with bait, the state says, while another 11 percent are killed by hounding and 3 percent with traps.
Even with these techniques, the success rate of bear harvesting through baiting and hounding is just 30 percent, according to Inland Fisheries and Wildlife statistics, and just 19 percent for trapping. Only deer hunters have lower success rates.
The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife opposes the ban, as do all three candidates for governor and the Maine AFL-CIO.
Proponents of the ban say the three practices have no place in “fair chase” hunting.
“Dumping millions of pounds of pizza, jelly donuts and rotting food into the woods, to lure in bears for an easy kill, habituates bears to humans and grows their population,” the group said in a news release. “Baiting, hounding and trapping are the lazy man’s way to hunt and have no place in responsible wildlife management.”
David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said that a successful ban on baiting, hounding and trapping would dramatically reduce the number of bears killed by hunters and lead to an increase in Maine’s bear population. That, in turn, would mean more of the creatures killed by the state in response to nuisance bear reports, at the taxpayers’ expense, he said.
Trahan said Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting would try to pull on Mainers’ heartstrings, but he urged voters to listen to state biologists, who support the hunting techniques as essential for population management.
The state has 30 days to certify the petition signatures. Roughly 57,000 must be certified for the referendum to be placed on November’s ballot. A similar measure was rejected by voters in 2004.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.