Narrow victory on bear referendum indicates trouble ahead

campaign signBear hunting and trapping advocates won another narrow victory this week, 54 percent to 46 percent. Despite polls that predicted a much bigger victory, the No on 1 campaign achieved only about the same margin of victory we won in 2004 on the same referendum question.

And the no vote fell about 75,000 short of the no vote in 2004, a presidential election year with a higher turnout. With 95 percent of precincts reporting, the turnout this year was 593,000, with 313,198 voting no on 1. 734,000 voters cast ballots in 2004, with 389,455 voting no on the bear referendum and 344,322 voting yes.

Today’s two-mornings-after analysis will focus on the lessons learned from the bear referendum.

We can’t match the funding of the Humane Society of the United States. HSUS spent about $1 million more than we did this year, and could have (probably should have) spent more. The No on 1 campaign raised about $1.8 million this year, while we raised $1.7 million in 2004. HSUS spent $2.8 million this year, compared to about $1 million in 2004.

We can’t match the emotionalism of HSUS. I think our margin of victory plummeted in the final few weeks because of those TV ads showing trapped bears and that small bear being torn to pieces by a pack of hounds. Fortunately, the wildlife professionals at Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife had already convinced a majority that these decisions should be left to them, and they needed these practices to limit the population of bears.

But a couple more weeks of those TV ads, and another $1 million from HSUS, and we might have lost.

Trapping bears and hunting them with hounds are practices that are not supported by a majority of Mainers. If the ballot question had been limited to those two practices, we would have lost. Even many Maine hunters would not have supported us if the referendum had been limited to hounding and trapping. And there’s no way we could raise the money needed to defend these two practices.

Please understand that I am not saying there is anything wrong with these practices – only that they make us vulnerable.

The Humane Society of the United States knows this, and has already announced it will focus on hounding and trapping now. HSUS actually proposed legislation last year that would have banned hounding and trapping, and offered to abandon their ballot initiative if sportsmen’s groups would help them enact that bill. You can be sure that legislation will be back in 2015.

Our Leaders

James Cote, campaign manager for No on 1, and his team did a fantastic job this year with special recognition for their media consultant Eric Potholm, who also produced our TV ads in 2004.

I am especially pleased to read what James, and Don Kleiner, executive director of the Maine Professional Guides Association, had to say on election night, as reported by Aislinn Sarnaki in the Bangor Daily News.

“It just amazes me to think of how well people pulled together in this,” said Kleiner. “The trick at this point is to maintain this coalition and think about going forward, how we can improve the wildlife business in this state and educate the public in what we do and how it’s done.”

“We plan to continue to strengthen the sporting community and our relationship with the DIF&W and other organizations,” said Cote. “In the future, we’ll be having bigger discussions about how to protect these opportunities for outfitters and hunters, as well as the sound wildlife management practices that have proven effective for decades.”

I look forward to hearing their ideas for how to achieve this, and of course, I’ll have something to say on the subject soon. Here are a few things for you to ponder.


Just for starters, we need to pay a whole lot more attention to Maine’s younger generations. Here’s something Sarnaki reported in the BDN.

“Bangor resident Andrea Lane visited the polls with her 12-year-old son, Sam, on election night. They both had strong opinions about Question 1. In fact, they were on ‘opposite sides of the fence.’ Sam recently wrote an essay for school about why he would vote yes on Question 1, if he were old enough to vote. Much of his essay centered on how these hunting methods, namely trapping, can cause bears to suffer.”

Lane also told Sarnaki, “We moved [to Bangor] two years ago from Greenville, where we’ve had bears on our doorstep. I don’t want bears on my doorstep here.’ However, she wished that bear baiting, trapping and hounding could be voted on separately — a sentiment several voters expressed at the Bangor polls Tuesday afternoon.”

New Bear Plan

In 2015, DIF&W will formally review the state’s big game management, including bear, deer, and moose, a process that historically has been conducted every 15 years. The last assessment was done in 1999.

The process includes lots of public hearings. The debate on bears will continue. And I expect many concerns will be heard about the deer and moose populations, and the current management of those species.

You’ll want to be involved. You’ll need to be involved.

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,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.