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Measure to restrict bear-hunting practices fails in Maine

Maine voters rejected a measure to ban the use of bait, dogs and traps to hunt black bears.
Maine voters rejected a measure to ban the use of bait, dogs and traps to hunt black bears.
(Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press)

Ending a political battle watched closely by sportsmen across the state and nation, Maine voters on Tuesday were set to defeat a ballot measure that called for a ban on bear-hunting methods, such as feeding the animals pizza, to draw them into the open.

With 60% of state precincts reporting, the measure appeared headed to defeat 53% to 47%.

The so-called Maine Bear Hunting Ban Initiative, which appeared on the ballot as Question 1, asked voters to decide whether to outlaw tactics such as tempting bears with human food -- except to protect property and public safety, or for research.

Maine has unique status in the wildlife world: It’s the only state in the lower 48 where hunters may use methods such as bait, traps and dogs to nab bears.

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National hunting groups opposed Question 1, saying it could lead to stiffer hunting rules in other states, while animal-rights activists hoped it would encourage the outlawing of what they called cruel hunting practices nationwide.

Maine hunters often use donuts and pizza to bait the animals, luring them out of the woods and into an open area where they can be shot, according to the group Save Maine’s Bears. The group says the unorthodox hunting method familiarizes bears to humans, which can lead to potentially violent encounters.

Critics of the initiative say too many Maine bears equals one big statewide headache. The state’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which estimates Maine has more than 30,000 black bears, warned that the passage of the measure would prompt bear numbers to soar out of control.

A judge last month ruled that the agency could use its resources to campaign against Question 1.

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While baiting is the most popular bear-hunting method in Maine, two other methods — hounding, or the use of dogs to hunt, and trapping — would also become illegal if the proposition passed.

Although Maine is the only state to allow all three of these practices, 32 other states allow baiting, hounding or both, according to Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

For a state usually off the nation’s political road map, Maine’s bear measure prompted particular outside interest that included celebrity endorsement and political big-hitters: Comic Bill Maher supported Question 1 while singer Ted Nugent opposed it. Heavy-hitters on the “no” side include the National Rifle Assn., the AFL-CIO and Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

Together, the two sides spent at least $1.6 million on TV advertisements alone.

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Twitter: Follow @jglionna for national news.


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