Bear hunting and trapping advocates won another narrow victory this year, 53.69 percent to 46.32 percent. Despite polls that predicted a much bigger victory, the No on 1 campaign increased the margin of victory in 2004 on the same referendum question by just a half a percent.
And the no vote fell 69,419 short of the no vote in 2004, a presidential election year with a higher turnout. In 2004, 389,455 voted no on this question, while 344,322 voted yes. This year the no vote totaled 320,036 while the yes side attracted 276,154 votes.
As the euphoria of victory subsides, my hunting fraternity must recognize the challenges ahead and act on the lessons learned from the bear referendum.
First and foremost is this: the public is concerned about wildlife management, including management of game animals, and will play an increasing role in that management. Yes, it would help if that interest was matched by public funding of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. And we shall continue to try to achieve that. In fact, the public supports the use of their tax dollars for DIF&W’s important work. It’s the politicians that have continued to let us down on this issue.
Second, Maine’s environmental groups are our friends — and they must be our allies in these issues. I am proud of the positive relationships that the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine had with environmental groups during my 18 years there. The first major news story when I took the job of executive director in 1992 was about our effort to reach out to the state’s environmental groups. We collaborated on many issues and projects, and that must continue.
Third, the hunting community can’t match the emotionalism of the Humane Society of the United States. I believe our margin of victory plummeted in the final few weeks because of those TV ads showing trapped bears and that small bear being torn to pieces by a pack of hounds. Fortunately, the wildlife professionals at Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife had already convinced a majority that these decisions should be left to them, and they needed these practices to limit the population of bears.
But another $1 million from HSUS for a couple more weeks of those TV ads, and we might have lost.
Fourth, trapping bears and hunting them with hounds are practices that are not supported by a majority of Mainers. If the ballot question had been limited to those two practices, we would have lost. Even many Maine hunters would not have supported us if the referendum had been limited to hounding and trapping. And there’s no way we could have raised the money needed to defend these two practices.
Please understand that I am not saying there is anything wrong with these practices — only that they make hunters and trappers vulnerable.
The Humane Society of the United States knows this and has already announced it will focus on hounding and trapping now. HSUS actually proposed legislation last year that would have banned hounding and trapping, but not baiting, and offered to abandon their ballot initiative if sportsmen’s groups would help them enact that bill.
Fifth, unless we have strong support from the Legislature, governor, and most importantly the public, putting all our effort into a Constitutional amendment that — essentially — is created to protect hunting opportunities might not be the best strategy. Before proceeding to the ballot, sportsmen must know they can raise the money to win what I am sure will be a major ballot battle.
James Cote, campaign manager for No on 1, and his team did a fantastic job this year, with special recognition for their media consultant Eric Potholm, who also produced our TV ads in 2004.
I was especially pleased hear what Cote, Don Kleiner, executive director of the Maine Professional Guides Association, and Dave Trahan, SAM’s executive director, had to say after their victory, emphasizing the importance of maintaining their coalition, improving wildlife management, and educating the nonhunting public about that management and our hunting heritage.
In 2015, DIF&W will formally review the state’s big game management, including bear, deer, and moose, a process that historically has been conducted every 15 years. The last assessment was done in 1999. The process includes lots of public hearings. The debate on bears will continue. And I expect many concerns will be heard about the deer and moose populations, and the current management of those species.
You’ll want to be involved. You’ll need to be involved. Even if you don’t hunt. But especially if you do.