Late summer and early fall mark the beginning of the bear hunting and trapping seasons in Maine. Hunters flocking to the woods will test their prowess, which, thanks to Maine’s allowance of cruel and unsporting methods, amounts to sitting and shooting bears trained to visit sugary piles of bait, packs of dogs chasing bears to exhaustion and killing bears trapped in painful snares.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife recently accepted comments on revisions to their Big Game Species Management Plan. I served as the lone representative for Mainers opposed to bear baiting, hounding and trapping on the Black Bear Subcommittee. Although thankful for the appointment, I was disappointed, but not surprised, that our voice was given little weight in the process.
I was not invited to participate, but had to request a seat at the table. This one-sided representation is despite the fact that wildlife watchers outnumber hunters by almost three to one, and outspend them by more than $65 million. And that’s just Mainers. Non-resident wildlife watchers outnumber hunters by more than four to one and outspend them by $600 million annually.
IFW’s plan is littered with misinformation, such as the claim that baiting doesn’t increase the bear population — even though the plan notes young bears in northern Maine are heavier than ever before, bears’ reproductive rates are greater than ever before and Maine’s bear population is expanding. IFW fails to seriously consider the multiple published studies concluding human foods grow more and bigger bears.
If Maine’s goals are to slow the growth of the bear population and reduce conflicts, banning bear baiting is an essential step. Baiting habituates bears to human scents, making them less shy and more unpredictable. Baiting also lacks “fair chase,” the cornerstone of ethical hunting. As sportsman Ted Williams stated, “It’s called ‘hunting,’ but it is no more hunting than buying cod at Hannaford is fishing.”
Hunting bears doesn’t reduce conflicts because large males in the woods, not the females with cubs in neighborhoods, are those targeted by hunters for an impressive trophy. Co-existence measures, such as removing trash and other food sources more effectively, reduce human-bear conflicts. They also keep people safer. And while IFW asks the public to secure garbage and take in bird feeders, it encourages bear hunters to dump millions of pounds of human junk food in the woods for bears to eat. The rules that apply to the public should also apply to hunters: Don’t feed the bears. It’s just common sense.
IFW’s plan also fails to address the problems associated with trapping and hounding bears. Maine is the only state in the lower 48 to permit bear trapping. Trapping causes severe injuries, trauma and death to bears, especially young cubs, who suffer immensely when captured — because they struggle vigorously to escape. Due to the indiscriminate nature of traps, non-target animals can also be caught, injured or killed. In fact, just last month, IFW issued an emergency rule prohibiting the use of a particular bear trap due to concerns it could capture Canada lynx, a federally protected species.
Hounding pits dogs and bears against each other. Maine law allows houndsmen to use up to six dogs to chase bears. During these stressful and energy-draining pursuits, either species can be injured or killed, particularly bear cubs. Hounds also invariably trespass on private property and they chase, harass and kill other wildlife. While some argue hounding prevents the orphaning of cubs, research conducted in Maine found houndsmen were ineffective in determining if a female had cubs. And when a mother bear is killed, her cubs will likely die from starvation, exposure or predation.
Other states with lots of bears and geography similar to Maine — including Oregon and Washington — have banned these cruel, unsporting and problematic practices and continue to successfully manage their bear populations.
Mainers and Americans as a whole hold widely divergent standards around wildlife, but the vast majority highly value their conservation and oppose cruel hunting methods.
With numbers of hunters continuing to plummet and numbers of wildlife watchers exploding, we strongly urge IFW to earnestly incorporate the wishes of this growing constituency and use the best available science when making management decisions.
Katie Hansberry is the Maine senior state director for The Humane Society of the United States.
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