A televised debate on the Question 1 referendum proposal to end the use of bait, dogs and foothold cable restraints to hunt bears was sponsored on Sept. 5 by WGME Channel 13 and the Bangor Daily News. The media reported the debate as fiery and emotional.

I was in the audience and can attest that emotions were high. Lost in the emotion, however, was something that Daryl DeJoy, spokesman for the Yes on 1 effort, said: “If this referendum passes, I agree, more bears will starve to death.”

DeJoy is director of Wildlife Alliance of Maine, a coalition member of Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, the statewide group advocating to eliminate bear baiting in Maine. Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting is almost entirely funded by the Humane Society of the United States, which is based in Washington, D.C.

DeJoy was responding to comments by Randy Cross, biologist for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and one of the nation’s most respected bear biologists, who stated his concern that passing Question 1 would harm the health of Maine’s bears.

As a conservationist, I was shocked by DeJoy’s comments. Intentionally subjecting wildlife to a death by starvation is to guarantee months of unspeakable suffering. Why would anyone advocate such a gruesome alternative to hunting?

DeJoy’s comments appear to validate concerns expressed by Inland Fisheries and Wildlife that a ban on baiting, use of hounds and traps in Maine for bear hunting will result in higher bear populations and that bear populations that exist at the limit of their food supply will be regulated through low birth rates, disease, starvation and cannibalism. Proponents of Question 1 appear to be OK with this scenario because they believe it is “nature’s way.”

The Maine referendum Question 1 serves the society’s national mission to end all sport hunting. Skeptical? Here is a direct quote from HSUS’s mission statement online:

“As a matter of principle, The HSUS opposes the hunting of any living creature for fun, trophy, or sport because of the animal trauma, suffering, and death that result. A humane society should not condone the killing of any sentient creature in the name of sport.”

Before Wayne Pacelle took over leadership of the humane society in 2004, he was CEO of The Fund for Animals, a radical anti-hunting group. At that time, he was interviewed by Ted Kerasote for his book “Bloodties, Nature, Culture and the Hunt,” which was published in 1994. The Fund for Animals, Pacelle said, intended to end hunting state by state, using the ballot referendum process. In 1991, The Associated Press quoted him as saying, “If we could shut down all sport hunting in a moment, we would.”

The Fund for Animals was absorbed by the HSUS when Pacelle became its director.

DeJoy’s acknowledgment that if Question 1 passes more bears are likely to starve to death is not the first time an HSUS alternative to hunting has been questioned as cruel. New Jersey was asked in 2010 to consider an unproven method of sterilization for bears.

New Jersey lost bear hunting in the 1970s as anti-hunters prevailed in the courts and the Legislature. During the ensuing 40 years, conflicts with people, pets and property increased dramatically. In a 1997 report, biologists reported that New Jersey had a bear population estimated at 500 and recommended a hunt to reduce the population to 300.

By 2010, New Jersey’s bear population was 3,500, 10 times higher than recommended, but the HSUS used the courts to block any management of bears using hunters, even when bears were breaking into 70-100 occupied dwellings per year. Losing support, the HSUS offered a bizarre alternative: The state should capture male bears, inject their testes with heavy metals, essentially performing chemical sterilization, and then release them.

In response to the proposal, Bradley M. Campbell, commissioner of the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection, said, “I fail to see how injecting an untested chemical, at speculative doses, into the testes of our majestic black bear population could possibly be considered humane. There have been no studies to determine whether this would be effective, or to determine appropriate dose levels, or to assess what painful or injurious effects this might have on the bears used as subjects.”

The Humane Society of the United States would have us believe that using bait, dogs and traps, our three most effective methods of hunting bears and controlling Maine’s large bear population, is not justified. Although Question 1 would ban recreational hunters from using those methods, the referendum language allows the methods to continue for agents of the state or paid animal control agents hired by taxpayers. By allowing this exemption, Question 1 proponents are qualifying IF&W’s assertions that bears are almost impossible to control without baiting, dogs and traps.

By throwing its considerable weight behind this referendum, HSUS appears to accept higher human-bear conflicts, expanding costs for dealing with nuisance bear damage and a major loss of hunting revenue in Maine’s rural counties to achieve only one goal — ban the use of these methods by recreational hunters. I don’t think it is a good deal for Maine. I encourage residents to vote no on Question 1 on Nov. 4.

David Trahan is the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. He served six terms as a state representative and senator, all serving on the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. Email at: [email protected]

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