By PATRICK WHITTLE | Associated Press
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine’s bear hunters are getting ready for their season after withstanding a pair of challenges to the way they hunt, but opponents say their methods are cruel and they might try again to stop them.
The season is critical to guides, lodge owners, outfitters and others who make a living serving people who come to rural Maine to hunt big game, said Don Kleiner, executive director of the Maine Professional Guides Association.
“I’m hearing the bear population is still high, and so is a successful season,” Kleiner said. “I think everybody is fairly positive at the moment.”
This year hunters can place bait starting Aug. 1. Hunting starts Aug. 31.
The Humane Society advocated for a bill that called for a ban on hunting bears with dogs or traps, but the measure died after a legislative committee recommended in May that it shouldn’t pass. A proposed ban on the use of dogs, traps, and bait to hunt bears was also the subject of a failed ballot initiative in November.
Kleiner said the challenges were borne out of a “desire to put people out of business.”
But the Humane Society says the hunting methods are cruel and unsporting, and it hasn’t ruled out further challenges.
Katie Hansberry, Maine state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said campaigners found that residents had a more negative view of hunting with dogs and traps than with bait. She said the group might consider a ballot initiative to ban those two methods sometime in the future.
“It’s very clear that the majority of Mainers want to see those cruel and unnecessary practices done away with,” Hansberry said.
Pro-hunting groups were able to turn away recent challenges by successfully making the point that state regulators say hunting is necessary to manage the state’s bear population, said David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. He said the failure of the proposed hunting restrictions was a major relief to people who make a living from the sport.
“A lot of them had a big sigh of relief that they’re still in business,” Trahan said. “The whole theme of our campaign was to trust our wildlife biologists.”
Hunting with dogs, traps and bait take more than 90 percent of the bears harvested in Maine, with bait by far the most popular and accounting for about four-fifths of the hunt.
Hunting advocates supported an amendment to the state constitution to ensure that laws governing hunting and fishing are not subject to the citizen petition process. A bill about the amendment did not pass.
The issue of new laws that offer protections for hunters will come up again next year, said James Cote, head of the Maine Wildlife Conservation Council, a coalition of hunting groups.