I have big news this week. On Tuesday, Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, a coalition of state and national groups including The Humane Society of the United States and the Wildlife Alliance of Maine, announced the launch of a ballot initiative to end the inhumane and unsporting practices of bear hounding, baiting and trapping.
Earlier this year, animal advocates introduced a bill in the Maine legislature to ban bear hounding, as well as the barbaric practice of bear trapping. The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee took the highly unusual step of voting on the bill immediately following the public hearing, thus failing to give the bill the proper consideration granted to virtually every other bill that came before them. Not only was this a complete disregard for the democratic process, but it was yet another attempt to appease a vocal minority who wants to perpetuate this senseless abuse of our state’s bears.
Though disappointing, the committee’s failure to take this important issue seriously demonstrates how crucial it is to give voters a chance to weigh in on the ballot.
The Maine Fair Bear Hunting Act would align Maine with much of the rest of the country by enacting long-overdue protections for the bear population while preserving traditional, fair-chase bear hunting. Maine is the only state in the country that allows hounding, baiting and trapping statewide, none of which are necessary for bear management.
Bear trapping uses painful snares to seize the animals in an ever-tightening grip. Bears can be left to suffer for as many as 24 hours before the trapper returns to the snare to shoot the terrified and suffering animal. Trappers in Maine often use bait to lure animals to their traps. Baiting is the dominant bear hunting method in Maine, where dump sites of human junk food are set in the woods for bears. While the animals are gorging themselves, the baiter shoots the animal at close range. Because feeding bears can habituate wildlife to human food sources, wildlife managers discourage people from leaving food out for them – but an exception is made for the thousands of hunters who dump tons of rotting donuts and pizza into the woods every year. Not only does this cause an increase in conflicts at dumpsters and campsites, but it also unnaturally concentrates wildlife, which increases the likelihood of spreading disease.
An equally bad practice, hounding, uses packs of dogs to chase bears through the woods. The dogs are fit with GPS-collars, allowing the houndsman to monitor the dogs remotely as they do all the work. When the bear cannot run anymore, she will climb up a tree, creating an easy target for the houndsman who blasts the terrified animal off of a tree branch. Talk about your quintessential “shooting fish in a barrel.” Sometimes the bears are so exhausted that they don’t make it up a tree and a fight ensues, leading to serious injury or death for the bear and the dogs. Personal property rights are also disregarded as dogs don’t know property lines and run through all types of habitat.
As horrifying as these practices are, the good news is that we can stop them. We need to gather 80,000 signatures from Maine voters to qualify for the November 2014 ballot.