Wildlife Biologist votes YES on Question 1, Maine’s Bear Referendum

A Maine native in my 66th year, I grew up in a hunting family and became a wildlife biologist at age 21.  Graduating from UMO’s wildlife program, I started at the bottom as a wildlife tech, for Maine Fish and Game in 1973.  Later, I became a wildlife biologist in other states and then a federal wildlife biologist, always returning to my native Maine, where I’ve been for most of the last 20 years.  Wildlife is and always has been, my life.

I specialize in habitat but am no expert because I learn new things about nature every day.  Though they do not know it, hunters have always been my allies, because they need the same thing I need…..habitat, lots of it and the higher the quality, the better.

Recently, I’ve listened to an attitude among some hunters regarding the bear referendum:  The moral beliefs of others are being forced onto us.  But for decades, Maine’s hunting/trapping lobby has been the only voice heard by Maine people, in shaping MDIFW policy.

Across America, the wildlife resource belongs to state’s residents.  Maine Sportsman Alliance and the Maine Trappers Association, do not have exclusive voice in determining the course MDIFW will follow.  This time, all Mainers will determine regulations effecting use/future of our beloved black bear.

We proudly hold our black bear as a symbol of Maine’s north woods.   It follows that  Maine’s bear season should involve much more than reaching a quota.  Hunting our bears should more deeply involve ethics.   Maine is the only state that allows all three practices of bear baiting, bear hounding and bear trapping.  Too effective to be considered sport or fair hunting, these three are the techniques often used to control nuisance wildlife species.

Maine is among just 6 states that continue to allow the sale of bear body parts.  Maine black bear paws (for soup) and gall bladders (for supposedly cleansing blood and increasing sexual virility) end up on the Asian market, where gall bladders can bring up to $4000.

The allowance of the sale of gall bladders shows poor judgment by MDIFW.  These legally sold bear parts are eventually consumed in Asia.  This trade that began legally, has already opened up a black market that is focused on our black bears:

http://www.justice.gov/usao/ma/news/2014/January/ZengEricsentencingPR.html

These current laws result in no less than a desecration of our beloved black bears.  Yesterday, a Maine bear baiter told me he did not care if the gall bladders ended up in Asia,  because it has nothing to do with him.   A YES vote will ban baiting, a technique often used by trophy-seekers with much money, and responsible for 80+% of the black bear harvest, and so it will dramatically
reduce the number of gall bladders taken.

When I grew up, bears were exclusive to Maine’s boreal forest, north of Bangor and western Maine, where their population still remains highest by far.  But in recent years, bears are occasionally sighted in southern, coastal and central Maine.  Why?

MDIFW attributes it to “improved habitat” but they do not explain what this is.

Over at least the last 30 years, there has been an ongoing expansion of Maine’s forest harvesting, from 250,000 acres/year to 500,000 acres/year.  There’s every reason to believe the expansion will continue.  This entails harvesting more of the forest canopy (older, veteran trees), allowing an increase of sunlight reaching the mid-story and floor, and assures an ongoing reduction in the average age of tree stands.  The increase in sunlight has caused an increase in earlier plant succession species, along with a dramatic increase in the biomass of their berries and nuts.  Black bears thrive on these foods.

This is exacerbated by the now-dependence of generations of Maine bears on highly caloric, man-processed baiting foods, including jelly donuts, old pizza, fryolator grease and molasses, to get them through the winter.  Both these factors are causing the bear population to expand and to increase its distribution.    Neither factor occurs in nature; i.e. both are unnatural, except in a cataclysm scenario, where the entire forest would be flattened, and the floor would be flooded with sunlight.

MDIFW says it needs baiting to reach its harvest quota.  The irony is that baiting is contributing to the increase in the bear population/distribution in the first place, exacerbating any problem MDIFW may have in reaching harvest quotas.  We can remove one of these two factors right now, along with the two other inhumane, quota-based, bear-harvesting practices.

Regarding bear habitat, Washington State is more like Maine, than any other state.  Washington residents passed Initiative 665, the equivalent of Maine’s Question 1, banning bating and hounding; trapping was already gone in Washington.  I spoke at length with a Washington State bear biologist, Mr. Donny Martorello.  He told me that subsequent to the loss of the baiting and hounding “tools”, Washington’s forest industry sat down with the Initiative people and a deal was struck whereby bears that cause much damage to commercial trees could be legally killed with limited dog hunting (hounding), targeting specific bears.  This provision for the damaging of public property, is already built into the legislation for Maine’s referendum.

Banning baiting, hounding and trapping will not cause a dramatic increase in bear complaints.   On November 4, let’s start with a clean slate by passing this referendum with a “YES” vote, and then see where we stand on the other side.  There will not be an unmanageable increase in bear nuisance complaints and the methods remain in place for MDIFW to effectively handle and problem bears.

I’m confident that years hence, I’ll know I chose the right side of Maine hunting history, when I voted YES on Question 1, to ban baiting, hounding and trapping of our black bears.

Robert King