A Maine Compass on Oct. 1, “Bear hounding, baiting, trapping are cruel, unsporting practices,” written by Connie McCabe, accused the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine of “spinning the wheels of misinformation” about bear hunting in Maine.
She gave no examples, but merely repeated talking points being made by the Washington D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States. Let’s set the record straight.
McCabe claimed that using bait, traps and dogs to hunt bear amounts to a “canned hunt,” which almost guarantees “that any hunter, skilled or otherwise, will get their trophy.”
In Maine, the bear hunting success rate is 30 percent, which is hardly a guarantee of success. Since 1990, the bear population has increased by 67 percent to more than 30,000 bears. Nuisance bear complaints in Maine increased in 2012 from an average of 500 per year to 870.
McCabe also claimed, “Proponents of these cruel practices continue to cloud the facts with the bogey man of outside interests.”
Katie Hansberry, Maine director for the Humane Society of the U.S., was quoted in a Bangor Daily News article on Aug. 7, saying she thought the humane society could win this referendum because “the demographics in Maine have changed,” with new people moving into Maine. One of the first referendum endorsements to be trumpeted by national humane society was that of Los Angeles native and pop star Ke$ha.
We have no problem with non-residents. Quite the opposite: We appreciate when they come to Maine and spend time and money in our state hunting, fishing and observing wildlife. But do pop singers and civil attorneys make better wildlife managers than our nationally recognized bear biologists at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife?
McCabe also said that since Oregon banned bear hounding and baiting in 1994, “bear tag sales have tripled, [and] revenue from bear tag sales has increased by 214 percent.”
Joel Hurtado, wildlife biologist in charge of Oregon’s Big Game Statistics division, said the state saw a slight decrease in bear license sales after the referendum, and bear tag sales between 1994 and 2013 have increased 191 percent.
McCabe, however, didn’t explain that Oregon, Colorado and Washington state all responded to passage of their bear referendums by combining big-game licenses in hopes that enough hunters targeting deer, elk and cougar would incidentally take a bear.
In spite of McCabe’s misleading implication, Hurtado said very few of the hunters in Colorado specifically hunt bears.
Maine biologists will not have the ability to add bear tags to other hunting licenses. Maine already includes a November bear tag for all resident big-game license holders. In fact, Maine already has a November “fair chase” bear hunt, which in 2012 accounted for a harvest of only 60 bears, hardly a sustainable number for the effective management and future conservation of Maine’s black bear.
The hunter success rate in Oregon dropped from pre-referendum success levels of 7 percent to only about 3 percent. In order to reach harvest target levels of 3,000 bears, Maine would have to attract 90,000 new hunters specifically hunting bears.
McCabe also said that since those states banned baiting, trapping and hounding they have seen no significant change in bear nuisance complaints.
According to Hurtado, however, the number of bear damage complaints in Oregon has increased 65 percent in the past three years, since the law was passed.
Randy Hampton, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, said, “Nuisance bear complaints went through the roof” after the bear referendum passed in Colorado.
The Associated Press reported in 2007 that Colorado had 877 reports of human-bear encounters that summer, compared with 502 for all of the previous year. Wildlife officers killed at least 30 black bears that summer after run-ins with people. “Officers in the resort city of Aspen field 20-40 bear complaints daily,” the article said.
McCabe, humane society officials and others are using emotion and twisting facts to justify the proposed new bear referendum. We reject these tactics; we will depend on our public biologists, years of research and sound science to manage our bears and other wildlife.
Cathy DeMerchant of Vassalboro is a board member of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and immediate past chairwoman of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Advisory Council.