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March 05, 2014

Don’t Feed the Bears: Baiting on the Ballot

In 1821, Maine was the first state to adopt an anti-cruelty statute. In 2014, however, it’s lagging badly by allowing unacceptable cruelty to wildlife. We hope to do something about that in the months ahead, and to establish greater moral consistency in its animal welfare laws. Today, the Maine Secretary of State certified a measure for the November 2014 ballot to ban bear baiting, hounding and trapping. More than 70,000 Mainers – from 417 cities and towns, in every county throughout the state – signed petitions to qualify this ballot measure, giving the people of the state an opportunity to stamp out these abusive hunting methods.

In recent years, Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington have all outlawed inhumane and unsporting bear hunting practices by ballot initiative, after state wildlife managers and trophy hunting groups conspired to keep them legal. Today, Maine is the only state that allows the use of bear traps – painful snares that put bears who trigger them into an ever-tightening grip. After as many as 24 hours of struggling in one of these traps, the bear meets his end after a trapper shoots the frightened, anguished, suffering animal at point-blank range.

270x240 Bear Cub -credit Alamy
Photo by Alamy / The HSUS

The dominant bear hunting method in Maine, by a long shot, is baiting – which is the method used to shoot 80 percent of the 3,000 or so bears hunters there kill for trophies. Bear baiters set up dump sites in the woods for bears – dumping meat parts, donuts, grease and other food waste – and then take aim while the animals feed. All professional wildlife managers discourage people from feeding bears, but Maine makes an exception for thousands of hunters who literally dump millions of pounds of human foods into the woods and habituate bears to human food sources. If you want to avoid creating nuisance bears, the first rule is to forbid trophy hunters from turning the Maine woods into a dump site – a wasteland of half eaten pastries from Dunkin' Donuts, chewed up crusts from Domino’s, and meat scraps from the local butcher shop and restaurant garbage bin.

Some hunters may unleash packs of dogs to chase bears through the woods. Fitted with GPS-collars, the dogs do all the work as they chase the bears to exhaustion – sometimes for miles. When a bear finally manages to escape up a tree in terror, the houndsman simply follows the GPS signal to the tree – then points, aims and shoots the bear out of the tree.

What’s even worse is when the bear doesn’t make it up the tree in time and instead turns and faces the dogs, leading to an animal fighting situation. The dogs can maul the bear and vice versa, leading to serious injury and even death on both sides.

Sometimes the hunters mix and match these despicable methods. They may bait bears into the traps, or they may bait them and then release hounds to chase them.

In short, despite its great habitat and famed north woods, Maine is the worst state in which to be a bear. A decade ago, the trophy hunting lobby fed voters a load of political garbage when this issue was on the ballot, falsely suggesting that these unfair, inhumane hunting and trapping methods were part of a wildlife management program. They are as much a part of a legitimate hunting program as deadfall traps or jacklighting. But these methods do provide big profits, as Maine guides and outfitters lead trophy hunters and bears by their noses to set up a guaranteed kill. About 80 percent of the 3,000 bears shot in Maine are killed by out-of-state hunters seeking a trophy.

It’s amazing that any self-respecting state wildlife biologist can find his or her way to support baiting. When you go to any national forest, national park or other public land area with bears, you see signs to “never feed bears.” Why would we ask every forest-user to follow this advice except the people who dump out the most food and want to kill bears for their heads? It makes no sense; it’s explained only by politics and greed.

And we’re not talking a few scraps. A single Maine bear baiting guide brags that he puts out 200,000 pounds of food in August and September. Think of the thousands of bait sites throughout Maine, with enormous volumes of food in the weeks and months before bears hibernate. These millions of pounds of food supplements, in addition to naturally available food, increase fat reserves and cause bears to produce more young and to allow cubs to survive. That’s a basic biological principle, and this reality undercuts their phony argument that baiting is needed to control the population. It creates more bears, and habituates them to human food sources, making them more likely to seek out that food in dumpsters, campsites, and neighborhoods.

Frankly, it’s a farce for these people to say that baiting will reduce human-bear conflicts and keep down populations – when it does precisely the opposite.

Maine voters will have a chance to cut through the smokescreen of the trophy hunting lobby by voting “yes” for this ballot measure. You can help by supporting this campaign and spreading the word throughout Maine that bears deserve better than this.

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