Sports

Is there a middle ground on bear baiting?

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“Did the last bear referendum affect you in any way personally?” she asked.

That question was unexpected. It caught me off guard. A good question, though. It took me back in time to the highly-charged bear referendum, when Maine voters decided the fate of recreational bear hunting as we know it.

I was being interviewed by a University of Maine graduate student who was working on her master’s thesis. Over a cup of tea and a molasses cookie at an Ellsworth eatery, Francesca Gundrum grilled me in a thoughtful and thorough way about my thoughts on bear hunting, bear baiting and the politics of it all.

Obviously determined to hear all sides of this deeply divisive Maine issue, she is meeting with all the “players,’’ including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which has over the years attempted to ban Maine bear hunts through one method or another.

“Do you think they will be back for another run at it?” I asked Francesca. She indicated HSUS isn’t saying, that the national organization is non-committal.

One aim of her thesis is to answer this question: Is there a middle ground between those who support bear baiting and those who oppose it? Is there a compromise position? I look forward to reading her thesis when it’s finished.

Meantime, there is activity on the legislative front that is very relevant to bear politics in Maine. For the fourth year, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine has supported a bill that would amend the state Constitution in a way that would require that petition signatures for citizen initiative referendums come from BOTH congressional districts. This is a good idea inasmuch as it would prevent a state demographic area like southern Maine from hijacking a citizen initiative referendum. The legislative vote has been close every year. According to SAM, the bill came out of committee with a strong ought-to-pass vote this time around, but with strong opposition from the Maine Education Association (MEA), “it is unlikely to garner a 2/3 vote to ensure passage,” asserts Trahan. At press time, according to Trahan the bill is “in budget negotiations” and the legislative outcome remains uncertain.

Why in the world, you might ask, would Maine teachers oppose a measure that would make the citizen initiative referendum process fair and more balanced? Why would our teachers not want rural Mainers to have a voice in what appears on the ballot?

SAM spokesman Dave Trahan says follow the money trail and that it leads to out of state sources with “progressive” agendas.

As I told the graduate student in response to her question, it is easier to forgive than it is to forget. We almost lost bear hunting in this state because of out-of-state wealth with an anti-hunting agenda, and now, in an indirect way, other freedoms are being trampled upon.

As a Maine citizen and a stakeholder in our hunting heritage, it is hard not to take these political realities in a personal way
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103.9, WVOM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His email address is vpaulr@tds.net . He has three books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook”, “Backtrack.” And his latest “The Maine Angler’s Logbook.” .Online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.net.

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