DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Chandler Woodcock told listeners at a recent seminar that bear baiting is necessary for effective bear population management.
The informational seminar on Oct. 4 was sponsored by the Piscataquis County Republican Committee and was held at the Morton Avenue Municipal Building.
When Maine voters head to the polls Nov. 4, they will encounter Question 1 on the ballot, which reads as follows: “Do you want to ban the use of bait, dogs or traps in bear hunting except to protect property, public safety, or for research?” That question has sparked much debate.
“A lot of people view black bears as a teddy bear. They see them as a friendly little animal,” Woodcock said, noting bears can be dangerous.
But Woodcock said if a homeowner were to go to his or her backyard and find a bear swimming in their pool, “that’s not going to be a funny situation.” He said a children’s play ball, sturdy enough to be thrown and kicked around, can be popped like a balloon by a bear’s sharp claws. “The idea they are friendly pets doesn’t fly,” Woodcock said.
“You are not going to hunt them like deer. If you think you are going to walk in the woods and follow them you are wrong,” Woodcock said, as additional measures mentioned in the referendum question are needed to have a chance at getting a bear. “Hunting over bait is probably one of the best and most ethical ways to hunt. You have a choice of what you want to do.”
The commissioner explained that with this method hunters can choose which bears to take a shot at, often waiting for mature trophy boars and letting smaller bears — sows with cubs and others — move on from the site.
“The bear-hunting crowd is very knowledgeable and rarely shoots cubs,” he said, as many guides make their living off taking hunters into the woods to get as large a bear as they can.
“The management system in the state works well,” Woodcock said. “We have more bears since the last time we did this,” he said in reference to a similar ballot question a decade ago. Woodcock said the state could use a spring bear hunt, as a high number of deer are killed when the hungry bears come out of hibernation.
“We have the best biologists going. They believe strongly in their management system. North America believes in their system,” Woodcock said, as some of Maine’s biologists and game wardens have publicly urged a “no” vote on Question 1.
“A bear will come into your backyard for one reason and one reason only — you have got something to eat,” Woodcock said about the incidences of human-bear interactions. He said if the natural food sources are diminished in the spring, then bears will go look for something else, which can be garbage left outside of homes.
“We don’t have a lot of bear-human contacts, compared to other states,’ Woodcock said. He said New Jersey saw a rise in its bear population following the end of its hunt. Since then the interactions, often caused by bears going through garbage containers, also increased. News stories shortly before the session reported on a hiker being killed by a bear in New Jersey, and Woodcock said he was not aware of bear attacks in Maine during his tenure.
The commissioner said the species population is healthy, with several thousand harvested per season. Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, who is running for state senate, said if Question 1 passes, the bear hunt total could drop to as low as about 200.
“Like any species, they are not going to be able to have enough food. You will have a population that isn’t as healthy,” Woodcock said about the potential increase in population if the proposed ban on several hunting methods is approved.
“The impact of this to the state of Maine’s economy is $53 million dollars,” Woodcock said about studies projecting what would happen if Question 1 passes. A question from the audience asked whether those who petitioned to get the referendum on the ballot would try to get other methods of hunting banned.
“They have said publicly they will be back to get other types of hunting,” Woodcock said. “I don’t think this will be the last time we will ever see a challenge to hunting.”
Woodcock said he believes that, like in 2004, “science will show what they are doing is working well.” He then said as commissioner, “Do we have a problem with bear in this state? I don’t think we do. So why tinker with it?”