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Because this will be the last column before the dreaded Bear Referendum, I thought it prudent to bring up a few points that may help some folks make their decision next week. Naturally, I’m all for bear hunting in all its forms. Maine has plenty of bears, more bears than ever in fact, and the season dates and bag limits are conservative enough to ensure that we will always have plenty of bears. Banning things, especially when it comes to wildlife, invariably ends up causing more issues due to over-population including diseases, attacks on humans, crop losses and all sorts of bizarre incidents and encounters that would not have happened if we’d let our trained wildlife managers do their jobs.
This all reminds me of the great SMOOSA debate back in the early 1980s when Save Maine’s Only Official State Animal came out against the moose hunt. Dressed in moose outfits and insisting that if the moose hunt went on there’d be no more moose to observe or dress up as, the group brought the issue to a referendum vote that, fortunately, was soundly defeated. We haven’t heard from SMOOSA since then and, surprise, we have more moose than ever. Moose are killing upwards of 20 people each year 35 years later. Imagine the carnage if we had banned the moose hunt!
I’m not as upset as curious over the Humane Society of the United States’ approach on the bear hunt. For one thing, where did they get the “7 million pounds of garbage” figure they keep bandying about? I’ve hunted bears in four states and all the Canadian provinces over the last 50 years and have never seen a guide or outfitter weigh and measure his bait. Plus, the idea that guides and hunters are somehow “feeding” Maine’s bears is silly at best. No guide or hunter I know is feeding bears, any more than a fisherman feeds the fish. A small amount of bait is placed in a large bucket or barrel along with some sort of alluring scent (Liquid Smoke, honey, chocolate or the like) with the intent of bringing a bear into the site so the hunter can evaluate the animal and decide if he wants to tag it. The purpose of the bait sample, scent and barrel is to keep the animal around long enough for the hunter to get a good look at him. Ninety percent of the bears in Maine are rejected for one reason or another (too small, too young, sow with cubs, etc.).
The HSUS says that we’re dumping tons of food in the woods to feed the bears but that’s not true, either. All of the bait used by hunters during the three-week season must be cleaned up and out of the woods by Nov. 10, barrels and all. Maine’s black bears breed in June and July when there is no bait in the woods and all the bait is cleaned up by the time the bears enter their dens in late fall. Bait put out by hunters is not available in sufficient quantities to “feed” the bears and when it would benefit them the most (spring and late fall) it’s gone. There’s not a species on earth that can survive and multiply on three weeks’ worth of bait samples.
In addition, though some guides and hunters may set up a dozen or even 100 bait sites bears do not come to all of them. In fact, I have hunted in bear camps where, after a week of hard hunting over bait, no one saw a bear – period. Black bears are not as dumb, lazy, careless, stupid or reckless as Disney portrays them. When abundant natural foods exist bears are likely to ignore hunters’ baits. When apples, acorns, mountain ash and other natural foods become available the bear baits sit idle. I’ve had this happen many times over the last four decades but I’m sure not one HSUS member knows anything about it because they don’t and never have hunted bears.
What I find most interesting overall is how folks absolutely trust their politicians, their law enforcement officers, their doctors, lawyers, baristas and auto mechanics but wildlife biologists – nope, we the people know best when it comes to wildlife management. The worst part is that every time a wildlife referendum issue is decided by voters and it goes badly it takes years to rectify. Few remember the early 1960s when Vermont was overrun with deer but they would not allow an antlerless deer season. By 1967 deer were dying to the tune of 40 per square mile (that’s more than double Maine’s population target even now). Deer were starving with stomachs full of red cedar bark because there was nothing left for them to eat. The habitat was all but ruined and still has not completely recovered. Vermont’s wildlife managers did their best to get “the people” to understand the value of an antlerless deer season but they had to learn the hard way.
I understand that HSUS is an anti-hunting organization and has made their agenda clear: To ban all hunting. They do not save animals, they do not contribute to animal welfare or research, they do not spend a penny on purchasing habitat or managing wildlife, they simply raise funds to keep themselves going and to further their agenda. Very few of the HSUS representatives involved in the bear referendum live, work or even vacation in Maine – to them we’re just another easy political target. When the vote is over they’ll go back to wherever they came from and start another campaign somewhere else, leaving us (and our bears) to fend for ourselves.
Our state wildlife biologists have done a great job of managing Maine’s bear population over the last 40 years and with their continued guidance we’ll have bears (and bear hunting) for 40 more years.
You don’t have to be a hunter or a fan of baiting to make the right decision on this one. What’s the sense of having a Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife if we’re not going to let them do their job?
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