March 26, 2019
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Judge to rule on request to stop state wildlife agency from campaigning against Question 1

Sharon Fiedler | BDN
Sharon Fiedler | BDN
A black bear stands at the edge of the forest in Hancock in June 2014.

An injunction request filed by Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting against the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which aims to stop the agency from spending taxpayer dollars on the Question 1 campaign on bear baiting, hounding and trapping, is in the hands of a judge.

A hearing on the request took place Friday morning at Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland. Justice Joyce Wheeler heard arguments from both sides. She did not issue a ruling from the bench. As of 2:15 p.m. Friday, she had not issued a written decision.

Prior to the hearing, Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting issued a statement citing court documents that indicated DIF&W would spend no “additional funds or resources” to campaign on Question 1.

DIF&W representatives were not immediately available for comment on Friday. The agency has maintained that its actions have been lawful.

Question 1 on the Nov. 4 ballot will ask voters: “Do you want to ban the use of bait, dogs or traps in bear hunting except to protect property, public safety or for research?”

Throughout the summer and fall, DIF&W has been urging Mainers to vote “no” on this citizen initiative through commercials, public debates, its website and in media interviews.

In late September, referendum proponents Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting filed a lawsuit alleging that DIF&W acted illegally in its campaign opposing the bear referendum.

The lawsuit seeks to force DIF&W to immediately comply with previous Maine Freedom of Access Act requests as well as prohibit the department from any further campaigning against Question 1. It also asks that the court require the department to remove all political content from its website, repay any funds to the state that were used in campaign activities and remove the television ads from the air.

Katie Hansberry, campaign director for Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, issued the following prepared statement on the matter: “The IF&W has strayed far beyond the bounds of acceptable conduct in politicking and spending state resources to defend the unsporting and inhumane practices of bear baiting, hounding and trapping. It’s impossible to unring the bell at this point, but it’s good to put the brakes on some of its overreaching and illegal activities, and we’re asking the court to enforce their promises. The agency has long been an outlier on bear management issues, given that no other state allows all three cruel and unsporting practices.”

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