Bear baiting will be back on the ballot in the State of Maine after the secretary of state today certified 63,626 petition signatures gathered by supporters of a referendum to ban the hunting of bears by baiting, hounding, and trapping (BHT). A similar referendum was defeated in 2004 by a margin of 53% to 47%.
Predictably, supporters of both sides of this ban are quickly resorting to hyperbole to garner public support for their cause, as can be seen in quotes from today’s Bangor Daily News piece. Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, the organization that submitted the petition signatures, would have us believe that hunters who practice bear baiting are simply lazy people who resort to operant conditioning techniques with jelly donuts to lure in their prey for an “easy kill.” The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, an organization that opposes the measure, would have us believe that the values of responsible Maine citizens are being co-opted by a Washington special interest group that disregards science.
A quick look around the internet reveals that claims from both sides are misleading. The Sportman’s Alliance website is fraught with news clips of bear encounters, as if to scare us into thinking that hunters who practice BHT are keeping the bear population in check and preventing negative bear encounters with people from spiraling out of control. Yet the Alliance produces no credible evidence linking bans on BHT to increases in negative bear encounters with people.
Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting (MFBH) , through their campaign director’s quote in the BDN article, claims that bear baiting practices train bears to raid garbage and other food sources. It’s true that negative bear encounters with people are associated with unsecured trash and food waste, but MFBH does not offer evidence that hunters who practice baiting contribute to an overall increase in bears attacking people and property for food. Distancehiking has a hard time believing that hunters baiting bears have an outsized impact on bear habituation compared to things like unsecured public campground trash and dumpsters. MFBH also should be a little embarrassed about this claim, since the change in the law that they are proposing permits commercial enterprises to feed bears as many jelly donuts as they like in order to protect their property. That seems irresponsible. The full text of the proposed language in the new law can be found at MFBH’s website.
So what’s a long distance hiker to do? First, Distancehiking recommends two things:
1) Take the time to review scholarly works from non-partisan sources. A somewhat dated, but very informative paper published by Meredith Gore of the Cornell University Department of Natural Resources presents the evidence on both sides and avoids concluding for one side or another.
2) Think about the values you adhere to as a hiker or outdoors person and square them with the referendum text. Some to think about:
- leave no trace wilderness ethics
- trail safety
- protection of public lands for the enjoyment of all (it takes money)
- fair hunting practices