The driving theme to ban the hunting of Maine black bears with bait, hounds and traps is the level of cruelty involved. Not all hunting practices are equal. The opposition never coherently answers when asked about the cruelty of these practices and inevitably goes into diversionary mode to say it is about animal protection extremists wanting to end all hunting.
Maine has a true hunting tradition, which we respect. Any wildlife legislation Maine Friends of Animals has put forward in the past 15 years has been to address the most egregious forms of wildlife cruelty such as leg-hold traps, coyote snaring, canned hunting and bear hounding. This referendum has nothing to do with ending all hunting.
Unfortunately, the extreme hunting lobby in Maine and the state’s Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, a historically unholy alliance, never consider the inhumane component in the overall assessment of a wildlife practice and unite in fending off any legislation on changing any hunting practices regardless of how unfair, needless or inhumane they are.
Opponents espouse that nature is cruel, so why the fuss about how the animal suffers or dies? Nature may be harsh and unforgiving, but cruelty is a human construct. And most Mainers do care about needless animal suffering, especially if it can be prevented. It is time to have that discussion, and Maine voters need to know the harsh truth.
In the 2004 referendum, a longtime former bear guide told a story about seeing a baited bear hit in the spine with an arrow. A couple of months later, he saw the same bear paralyzed from the waist down. Its legs had become like leather from dragging itself around.
These trophy hunters are mostly out-of-state, unskilled hunters, thus not assuring a clean kill. A bear shot with a bow and arrow often screams in pain and may not die quickly. Some wounded bears are not tracked down, left to die a slow and painful death in the woods.
Chasing a bear with a pack of hounds with radio collars can be even more gruesome, particularly if an exhausted bear turns and fights. The dogs can be maimed, crippled or killed. If the hounds overcome the bear, the mauling of the animal can be merciless and protracted.
Cubs sometimes are maimed by dogs or permanently separated from their mother; many eventually die of starvation, exposure and/or predation.
Hounding is very stressful to a chased bear that often trees itself to escape the dogs. Terrified as hounds relentlessly bark at the base of the tree, the bear can only wait to be found by the hunter and shot at point-blank range, sometimes with the dogs tearing at the wounded or lifeless animal after it falls to the ground.
Then there is the treatment of the dogs. Hounds can be beaten severely if they chase another animal. It is not uncommon for abused hounds to be found in local shelters. Many of these dogs are not treated like pets, but rather another piece of hunting equipment.
Perhaps the most inhumane of the three practices is the agonizing death in a leg-hold trap or snare that is often used with bait. One woman told Maine Friends of Animals staff about being kept awake all night by the howling and suffering of an animal in severe pain, knowing it cannot escape.
Maine remains the only state in the country that still allows this barbaric practice.
The unwritten truth is bear hunting in Maine is a very ugly business. Maine does not need to be associated with an enterprise for some guides to make money on mostly out-of-state, lazy, unskilled trophy hunters.
When will the hunting lobby and DIF&W have a discussion about how much animal cruelty and suffering is too much? The voters, to whom all Maine wildlife belongs, can have that discussion and make that decision on Nov. 4.
Maine black bears are gentle, intelligent, curious, shy, peaceful animals that deserve better treatment. Bears are a proud symbol of the Maine woods and the mascot to our flagship university. So why do we treat it like a dump rat?
We have a moral and ethical obligation to treat animals less cruelly. And all three of these hunting practices are inherently and egregiously inhumane and completely unnecessary. Vote yes on Question 1.
Robert Fisk Jr., of Falmouth, is president and director of Maine Friends of Animals, and campaign director for the proponents of the 2004 bear referendum.