In his predictable diatribe against Question 1 — the citizen initiative to end the baiting, hounding and trapping of bears — longtime hunting writer Tom Hennessey twists the facts.
He calls the economic benefits of bear baiting “immeasurable,” but he neglects to mention that the state’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review did measure the economic effect of ending bear baiting and determined it will have “no net revenue impact” on state government.
He calls Maine’s bear management program “arguably the most respected nationwide” but doesn’t mention that Maine is actually an outlier on bear management: it’s the last state, out of 32 that allow bear hunting, to allow baiting, hounding and trapping.
He says New Jersey has seen an increase in bear-human conflicts, but those increases came at a time when the population was recovering from extirpation, so of course it’s true that going from just a handful of bears to a thousand or more will create more conflicts. Unfortunately, when New Jersey authorized hunting, it didn’t follow Pennsylvania’s lead to ban baiting. Instead, it permitted setting out garbage piles for bears. New Jersey adopted the same reckless bear feeding program Maine has — except that Maine’s is on steroids, with more than 7 million pounds of junk food dumped in the woods in July, August and September. When you feed bears, you’ll get more conflicts because supplemental feeding accelerates population growth and teaches bad behavior.
Hennessey calls bear baiting, hounding and trapping, “traditions, cultures and heritage symbolic of the state.” But he neglects to mention that bear baiting and trapping only became widespread in the 1970s, as guides started luring wealthy out-of-state hunters to Maine with the promise of a guaranteed kill — a promise that is only possible when you remove the sport from hunting.
Maine’s true tradition is the fair chase hunting of bears. That tradition is undermined by bear baiting and hounding, because responsible sportsmen don’t want to compete against people who are stacking the deck so decidedly in their favor, by using packs of radio-collared hounds or by luring bears into point-blank range with junk food.
Hennessey claims fair-chase hunters won’t find bears without baiting because bears live deep in Maine’s woods and are “wary and elusive.” But he then claims bears will be everywhere if the initiative passes — a contradiction that doesn’t make sense.
He says my group, The Humane Society of the United States, “admits to being opposed to hunting,” when we’ve told Mainers the opposite: We oppose dumping food in the woods for bears, and we oppose the outlier practices of bear hounding and trapping. This measure is expected to swell the population of bear hunters in Maine, as similar voter-approved measures did in Colorado, Oregon and Washington. How is that anti-hunting, when you have policies that prompt hunters to buy more licenses and get out in the woods?
And he repeats the slander that only one percent of our budget “benefits local humane societies and animal shelters,” when we are the No. 1 animal care provider in the United States. And, of course, many Maine animal shelters throughout the state — from the Hancock County SPCA to the Animal Welfare Society in Kennebunk — support Question 1 and recognize these hunting methods are unfair and reckless.
But perhaps most disturbing is Hennessey’s disdain for what he calls the “misguided votes of people.” Mainers aren’t as naive as Hennessy thinks. “Don’t feed the bears” means something, and it shouldn’t be selectively invoked. Shooting fed, treed or trapped bears doesn’t pass the smell test — even if a sweet jelly doughnut is involved.
Wayne Pacelle is president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, humanesociety.org.