Mainers consider shutting down bear hunting while other states expand hunting to manage out-of-control wild animal populations

We’ve got way too many wild critters in too many places. Many people can’t take it anymore.

The December 9, 2013 edition of Time magazine reported that bowhunting was authorized for deer within the city limits of Durham, North Carolina due to an outbreak of Lyme disease. Wild pigs can now be hunted in San Jose, California in the heart of Silicon Valley, and “despite protests and a spirited lawsuit, the fourth annual black-bear hunt was conducted… in New Jersey “in a six day hunt designed to cope with what has become a bear boom of unsustainable proportions.”

Last year, Jim Sterba, author of the fascinating book Nature Wars, was our guest on Wildfire, the TV show that Harry Vanderweide and I host. That show is still available on the website of Maine Audubon if you want to watch it.

Goodman's photo oneSterba’s book is particularly relevant as Maine approaches its second referendum in a decade on bear hunting. In fact, Sterba presents an account of Maine’s 2004 bear referendum in his chapter on bears, appropriated titled “Teddies.”

How did we come to be overrun with these wild beasts all over America?  From the sad to the sensational, Sterba tells us, in Nature Wars, how and why burgeoning wildlife populations have “turned backyards into battlegrounds.”

You may know that the voters of Massachusetts banned trapping in 1996. “Emotion ruled over science, and that’s a real problem for wildlife management in this country,” said Rob Deblinger, an assistant director of MassWildlife. The result was predictable. A lot more beaver. A lot more problems. A lot more money spent to reduce out-of-control beaver populations.

Is any of this relevant to the move to ban bear hunting with bait and dogs and bear trapping in Maine? You betcha!

The referendum question expects voters to act emotionally to overrule the scientific management of the state’s professional bear biologists – who just happen to be widely recognized through North America for their exceptional research and work.

All over the country, hunting opportunities are expanding to deal with rising and troublesome populations of wild animals. While the Humane Society of the United States claims Maine can manage bear populations with free range hunting, that’s very unlikely. Randy Cross, our state’s top bear biologist, has said repeatedly that we are not harvesting enough bears now.  It’s hard to imagine how we’d be able to achieve the state’s bear harvest goals if we’re limited to free range hunting.

And if we can’t, then we can count on serious bear problems – statewide.

Here’s some interesting information sent to me recently by a Mainer who does not hunt, but who decided to research this issue himself. Here’s what he wrote:

Read these blog articles and see if anything they are describing in Oregon is at all similar to Maine - Spoiler alert. It’s not. When was the last time a Maine hunter spotted the bear a mile-and-a-half away and moved into position to take it? When are Maine hunters advised to have at least 10-power binoculars in order to spot the bear on the opposite slope?

DIF&W ‘s bear biologist Jen Vashon (on a radio show today) debunked most of the HSUS claims. A big one: “after those three western states instituted fair chase hunting, licenses increased an average of 267%”’ What REALLY happened was that wildlife management officials were so desperate to get more bears harvested that they bundled the licenses, making them much more attractive to elk and deer hunters.”

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.