BANGOR, Maine — The heated debate over whether to ban baiting, trapping and hounding bears in Maine brought the head of the nation’s largest organization dedicated to the protection of animals to Bangor on Saturday.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, went door to door in a Bangor neighborhood with the aim to drum up support for the initiative that has sparked contentious arguments about the fairness and value of those hunting practices.
Pacelle and Jennifer Skiff, an author and steering committee member for Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, knocked on doors on the west side of Broadway Park, running the length of French Street and a portion of Cumberland Street on Saturday afternoon, while five other pairs of Humane Society volunteers worked in other neighborhoods in the city.
Question 1 on the November ballot will read: “Do you want to ban the use of bait, dogs or traps in bear hunting except to protect property, public safety, or for research?”
For the Humane Society, the answer is simple. The message they spread to dozens of residents and passers-by was that trapping, hounding and baiting are cruel practices.
Armed with a stack of fliers to hang on doorknobs and a list of registered voters, Pacelle and Skiff knocked on each door on the list. They hoped to reach people across the political spectrum.
“We’re treating every voter in the state as a potential ‘yes,’” Pacelle said.
When no one answered the knock, they left a flier. When someone did come to the door, the pitch was the same: “We’re here to stop inhumane and unsporting bear hunting practices,” Pacelle said.
He criticized trapping, baiting and hounding as “unfair methods that stack the deck far too much in favor of hunters.”
Pacelle argued hounding is cruel to bear and dog alike, trapping often leads to hours of suffering for the bear and baiting has created “bad behavior” in bears, drawing them closer to people, fattening them up and contributing to a healthier, larger bear population rather than controlling its numbers.
People who came to the door or who passed the pair on the street were largely supportive. The majority of registered voters they talked to said they planned to back the ban. Several who weren’t registered to vote said they probably would register in order to support Question 1. A couple individuals said they saw both sides of the issue and were still weighing them. Pacelle and Skiff boasted not a single person in the city said “no,” though one woman on the street did wander off hurriedly saying “whatever.”
“I agree that it’s kind of barbaric,” one French Street resident said. Another said he didn’t believe it was right to kill animals at all.
The ballot initiative’s opponents, notably the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, have said the referendum would “ cripple the [state’s] ability to control the bear population.”
Wildlife biologists have largely been opposed to the baiting ban. The department argues Maine’s bear population is estimated at over 30,000, and these forms of hunting prevent that population from growing larger, thus reducing the chances of humans and bears coming into close contact with people.
“The [DIF&W] opposes the referendum based upon over 40 years of scientific research conducted by state wildlife biologists here in Maine,” the department has said. “Maine’s bear research program and our bear biologists are some of the most respected and experienced in North America.”
The department has said “still hunting,” without the aid of trapping, baiting or dogs, would not be a sufficient means of controlling the bear population.
Pacelle said he would be returning to Maine “periodically” in the lead-up to the November vote. Meanwhile, Humane Society coordinators in each of Maine’s 16 counties continue to try to rally voters, he said.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmccrea213.