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article image'To bait or not to bait?' Maine to vote on bear-baiting

By Karen Graham     Oct 26, 2014 in Politics
Bear-hunting is allowed in 32 states nationwide, but the state of Maine has the most permissive laws governing how to kill your bear. Maine is the only state that allows hunters to use three methods; baiting, dogs, and traps.
In other words, a hunter can put out a box of donuts and sit back and wait for a bear to come up on the treats. Hunters can also use dogs, allowing them to chase a frightened bear up a tree, setting up a perfect shot. Cable traps are also allowed, making for another easy way to get a bear all snarled up in the trap.
On November 4, Maine's hunting rules could be changed drastically, if animal rights and humane groups have their way. The ballot proposal would ban all three methods of bear hunting in the state. The referendum has sparked public debate across the state.
Proponents of the ban say baiting bears with food will lead to dangerous encounters with humans, and they say all three of the methods are unsportsmanlike. With bears now numbering close to 30,000, opponents of the ban point to the 30 percent increase in the state's bear population over the past 10 years.
Campaign donations for both sides of the ballot proposal have exceeded $1.0 million. Ohio-based U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance recently donated $100,000 to Save Maine's Bear Hunt, hoping to help defeat the referendum, according to Evan Heusinkveld, a spokesman for the group.
To bait or not to bait, both sides express their views
State wildlife biologists are opposing the ban. According to Maine's wildlife division director Judy Camuso, a ban would mean a larger bear population, more competition for food sources along with resulting starvation She also worries about bears venturing into neighborhoods looking for food.
The use of bait to lure bears out into the open is the most debated part of the ballot proposal. This method accounts for four-fifths of the hunt. Supporters say the dumping of food, actually, about 7.0 million pounds a year, according to an oft-cited estimate, actually helps to stem the growing bear population.
But Katie Hansberry, campaign director for Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, says all it has done is helped to create a very healthy and well-fed bear population, and one that is reproducing more frequently. Hansberry cites the fact that bear encounters with humans have increased 25 percent over the past 10 years.
Bear hunting laws in other states may hinge of outcome of vote
Twelve other states allow bear-baiting, but with different degrees of the restrictions. Of the twelve, Maine, Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Michigan, Wisconsin and New Hampshire also allow hunting bears with hounds, or "hounding." Then we have 11 states that allow hounding, but not bear-baiting.
Four states, Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon and Colorado changed their hunting regulations back in the 1990s. In these states, with the banning of baiting and hounding, bear populations have stabilized.
The Virginia-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Connecticut-based Friends of Animals are both following the referendum and final vote in the hopes that this will drum up "anti-bear-baiting" sentiment in other states,
"It's a direct threat to the future of hunting in Maine and across the country," Heusinkveld said. "We want to see the longtime professionals in the state be able to manage the bear population."
More about Maine, bear hunting laws, ballot proposal, Inhumane, unsportsmanlike
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