The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) will propose a ban on trapping bears and hunting them with hounds, and has been at the State House shopping for a sponsor of their bill, according to multiple sources there.
This will be a re-run of bear issues that the HSUS qualified for Maine’s referendum ballot in 2004. Confident that they would win the issue with Maine voters, HSUS instead got a big surprise when they lost that referendum, 53 to 47 percent. My sister Edie Smith managed the campaign to defend bear hunting and I raised the money for that campaign.
Many Maine guides and sporting camps sacrificed financially to defeat HSUS in that campaign, and will be very unhappy to have to battle on these issues again this year. I expect that, if HSUS is unsuccessful at the legislature, it will attempt another referendum in 2014, very bad news for our rural Maine hunting economy, already in trouble because of the loss of deer and nonresident deer hunters.
HSUS is well aware that the outdoor hunting economy is suffering and the people in that industry would have a very difficult time raising the money to once again defend bear hunting. They are more vulnerable this time than they were in 2004.
According to my sources in and outside the Capitol, HSUS has retained lobbyist Jay Nutting to lobby for their bill that includes a ban on bear hunting with dogs and bear trapping, a ban on the sale of bear gall bladders, and a ban on spring bear hunting. They also want to make the second conviction for bear poaching a felony.
HSUS has apparently given up the centerpiece of its 2004 referendum: hunting bear over bait. They are not talking about including this in their 2013 legislation, at least as far as I can determine at this time.
The ban on spring bear hunting seems to be aimed at the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Nations, both of which sponsor spring bear hunts. The section of Maine law that establishes parameters for the bear seasons in the rest of the state do not offer the opportunity for bear hunting in the spring, but that statue does not apply to the Penobscot’s and Passamaquoddy’s lands.
You can expect this to be a very big issue this year and I’ll have lots more to say about it as this proceeds through the legislative process.