When I moved to Maine in 2010, a local newspaper featured an image of a grinning 14-year-old, gun in hand, with a trophy bear she had killed near Skowhegan. Upon closer examination, the bear was probably half-grown.
The image haunts me to this day and as I came to understand the torturous methods of bear “hunting” in this state, the cruelty issue only got worse.
The contemporary act of bear baiting has a provenance in bear “baying,” where for amusement, chained bears were torn, limb by limb, by dogs. In Maine, in sanctioned baiting, hungry, unwitting animals are lured to piles of decaying food and shot point blank after following a basic life-affirming need: to eat.
Maine is the only state in the nation that sanctions the triple threat of bear baiting, bear hounding — where bears are pursued to exhaustion by a pack of GPS-outfitted dogs, treed and shot at point blank range — and bear trapping — where they are snared by foothold traps that can cause excruciating pain and severe stress, sometimes for days at a time.
Though it is state law, traps are not always checked daily. Bears have been known to chew off their feet, often to get out of pain or to their dependent cubs.
The pros and cons of controlling Maine’s bear population through baiting, hounding and trapping are bandied about under the guises of fear and “science,” but what about pain and suffering?
If other states exercise successful controls without those barbaric methods, what happened here?
Beth Herman, Lewiston