AUGUSTA — The stage is set for a likely November battle over the state’s bear hunting practices as Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap on Wednesday certified 63,626 signatures gathered by referendum supporters as valid.
By law, those seeking to put a question on the November ballot needed to gather 57,277 signatures.
The question that will likely show up before voters will ask whether they favor outlawing the hunting of bears over bait, with hounds or with traps. All three methods are currently used in Maine, with the vast majority of bears taken by hunters each year being shot over bait.
“We are excited to work with Maine hunters and nonhunters to ban the inhumane, unsporting and reckless practices of bear baiting, hounding and trapping,” Katie Hansberry, campaign director for Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, said in a Wednesday press release. “Dumping millions of pounds of pizza, jelly donuts and rotting food into the woods — to lure in bears for an easy kill — is wildlife management at its worst, providing heaps of supplemental food for bears and training them to raid garbage and other human food sources.”
Mainers rejected an identical ballot measure in 2004, 53 percent to 47 percent.
James Cote, campaign manager for the Maine Wildlife Conservation Council, called on Mainers to rally against the ballot measure.
“Maine people must now decide who they trust more to manage our public wildlife resources — our biologists at [the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife], who have performed decades of scientific management and research and are responsible for an extremely healthy bear population, or one interest group in Washington, D.C., [the Humane Society of the United States], [which] is bankrolling this initiative in order to advance an anti-hunting, anti-science political agenda at the expense of Maine people,” Cote said in a separate Wednesday news release. “We are proud to stand behind the work of Maine’s biologists and game wardens.”
According to the secretary of state’s office, Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting initially submitted 76,841 signatures, of which 63,626, or 83 percent, were deemed valid.
Of the 13,215 signatures that were disqualified by local or state officials, 9,654 were determined to be invalid because they were not determined to have belonged to a registered voter in the municipality listed. Another 2,347 signatures were invalid because they were duplicates of signatures that had already been counted.
Dunlap said he was confident that the initiative had met the strict constitutional standards required in order to place it in front of the legislature or the state’s voters.
“[Our staff has] done a tremendous job,” Dunlap said. “The process for certifying an effort like this requires fine, detailed scrutiny, and our people have worked every weekend over the last month to make sure this was certified on time and that the work was completed deliberately and with integrity.”
According to the secretary of state’s office, the ballot measure is now in the Legislature’s court. If lawmakers choose to approve legislation, verbatim, as written by proponents of the measure, it will become law. If the Legislature disapproves of the measure as written, the question will be put before voters no later than November.