Harlow sponsors HSUS bear bill

The Humane Society of the United States has found a new sponsor for its “Bear Protection Act.” Rep. Denise Harlow of Portland will put her name on the bill that resurrects many of the issues in the 2004 statewide bear referendum.

Senator Ed Mazurek, announced as the original sponsor, came to his senses and declined to sponsor the bill.

In a decidedly disappointing turn of events, HSUS is apparently going to make Lugnut the centerpiece of their legislative performance. Lugnut, a female bear, captivated the world last year with video beamed from its den where it birthed and nurtured its cubs.

The Goodman family of Patton, with help and support from DIF&W’s bear biologists,  featured Lugnut in a video designed to attract support for the family’s Wildlife Research Foundation, created to excite people – especially children – about wildlife, to educate them about the importance of scientific research and management of wildlife and wildlife habitat, and to raise money for wildlife research in Maine.

The webcam starring Lugnut and her cubs was an immediate success. A stunning 280,000 individuals logged onto the website in just 10 weeks, including entire classrooms in several states and 7,000 people in Japan. Many watched Lugnut and her cubs every day until they emerged from their den last spring.

While the Goodmans were not able to find funding to present another webcam bear this winter, their Foundation is moving forward, having recently hired James Cote of Farmington, a seasoned leader and lobbyist, to manage the nonprofit and advance its goals. By way of disclosure, I connected the Goodmans with Cote.

Bear Bill

In a message emailed to me and other members of Maine’s media, Kaitlin Sanderson of HSUS reported its Maine Bear Protection Act “would address several serious gaps in Maine’s wildlife protection laws.”

“There is an odd dichotomy in Maine in that bears are beloved by most residents – hundreds of thousands tuned in to watch ‘bear cams’ featuring the state’s research bears like Lugnut and Spunky – yet the state sanctions some of the cruelest, unsporting, and biologically reckless practices pertaining to bears.”

In a single sentence, they claim Lugnut for their own highly-political purposes, misusing the bear and her cubs to regain the momentum they lost when their initiative went down to defeat in 2004.

If this wasn’t a serious threat to bear management in our state, the elements of their Bear Protection Act would be amusing.

One provision asks legislators to “protect property rights and preserve fair-chase by ending bear hounding. This practice involves fitting packs of trained dogs with radio collars or high-tech GPS transmitters that allow bear houndsmen to remotely track the dogs’ movement, on high-tech computer screens. Dogs are released to chase frightened bear often for miles, across all types of habitat, including private property.”            Sanderson’s letter claims that bears are sometimes “ripped apart by the pack of dogs.”

I sure hope they don’t have video of that!

The HSUS bill would also ban the sale of bear gall bladders – something Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has already proposed this session. While there is no evidence of this, HSUS claimed that “allowing the trade in gallbladders in Maine adds incentives to killing bears illegally for profit.”

There’s a provision in their bill to “deter chronic bear poachers by putting in place felony-level penalties for repeat offenses of certain, particularly egregious bear poaching crimes.” We are offered no evidence that these “egregious bear poaching crimes” are actually occurring.

One section of the bill is getting special attention from the Penobscot and Passmaquoddy Tribes. It would “clarify the existing prohibition on spring bear hunting to protect bear cubs from orphaning.” Only the tribes are able to have spring bear hunts in Maine.

Perhaps the most vulnerable in this dustup will be Maine trappers. The HSUS bill would “end Maine’s status as the only state in the country that allows bears to be cruelly trapped.” While I understand that the bear hunting industry will defend bear trapping, they are most vulnerable on this issue.

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.