Mainers to vote on bear hunting referendum

PORTLAND, Maine (NECN) -- For the second time in a decade, Mainers will vote on a controversial bear hunting referendum.

The November ballot question asks; "Do you want to ban the use of bait, dogs or traps in bear hunting except to protect property, public safety, or for research?"

Maine has more than 30,000 black bears.

The most common method of hunting them is a practice called baiting - where a hunter or guide leaves food repeatedly in the same location hoping to get a bear to visit and give a hunter a clear shot.

The group "Mainers For Fair Bear Hunting," which is backed by the Humane Society of the United States, opposes baiting along with the use of hounds and traps.

"These are three abhorrent practices that have no place in wildlife management," says Katie Hansberry, Campaign Director.

Hansberry says they support only "fair chase" or "still" hunting where the hunter stalks prey without assistance from bait, dogs or traps.

But Maine's Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife says the proposed limitations would cripple their ability to manage black bears.

"The reality is the state of Maine is the most forested state in the country and still hunting is very difficult," says Judy Camuso, the Wildlife Division Director for IF&W.

Camuso points out that only 7% of bears are harvested through still hunting. The other 93% are taken through baiting, trapping and hounding.

She says if the referendum passes, it will lead to more human-bear interactions and and increased threat to public safety.

The Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, which has some 14,000 members, says limiting the bear hunt would also have a chilling impact on rural economies.

"If this thing passes, it's going to decimate the Guiding community in northern and western Maine," said David Trahan, SAM's Executive Director.

The fact is Maine's black bear population is already on the rise.

According to IF&W it's grown 30% in the last decade- a statistic both sides use to try and prove their point.

"Baiting is the problem, not the solution," said Hansberry. "It grows the population and that increases the chance of conflict."

But hunters says the rise is due to fewer people hunting.

They argue that hunters need every tool available to take the 3,500 bears needed annually to stabilize the population.

"If they abandon the current model, it will cost millions in jobs, millions in revenue that IF&W uses to manage all wildlife, and we"re going to have a nuisance problem," said Trahan.

Come November, voters will have to decides for themselves what's best for people, and the iconic black bear that is so closely tied to the state's identity.


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