David Trahan: Humane Society lawsuit is a political stunt

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When diagnosing disease, doctors use their nearly decade of specialized schooling, plus their experience, plus all available research, to diagnose ailments. Wildlife biologists use exactly the same formula to determine how to manage bears, and all other wildlife.

Maine biologists receive specialized schooling, they constantly collect and analyze research, and they use Maine’s 40 years of bear management experience to recommend how to balance bear populations and human conflicts.

The Humane Society of the United States has filed a lawsuit to stop state biologists and game wardens at the Department Inland Fisheries and Wildlife from participating in the referendum to oppose Question 1. The use of state courts to silence our most informed and knowledgeable people on this complicated issue has only one purpose: Silence those who can most effectively tell the truth.

The entire “Yes on 1” campaign has, from its inception, been based on claims that other states with similar bans on baiting, dogs and foothold snares have seen increases in license sales, and no problems with nuisance bears. In addition, proponents have made claims that baiting grows bear populations.

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For the average uninformed voter, claims like these sound logical and reasonable. But there is only one group in this state that has firsthand experience with these issues and the resources to contact other states and get the facts from fellow wildlife professionals to determine the truth. These are the state biologists — and they have found that every state that banned bait and dogs has seen increases, sometimes dramatic, in both bears and bear problems, including attacks on people.

HSUS and their leader, Wayne Pacelle, who are the chief advocates for Question 1, have a long history of opposing all hunting.

Recently, under intense criticism from the radio media and groups like the one that I represent, they took down from their website this policy statement: “As a matter of principle, the HSUS opposes the hunting of any living creature for fun, trophy, or sport because of the animal trauma, suffering, and death that result.”

They then replaced that anti-hunting policy with a much more moderate, almost pro-hunting policy. That chameleon-like transformation and whitewash is indicative of the tactics being employed by HSUS and the “Yes on 1” campaign, and it illustrates why experienced professionals must be part of the debate.

Polls are showing that Maine people are going to handily defeat Question 1, and that Maine’s IF&W is trusted and is the most credible source of information on bears. Each and every time HSUS and their Maine leader, Katie Hansberry, puts out a false claim, and IF&W methodically uses facts to tell the truth, the “Yes on 1” campaign loses credibility.

That is the reason HSUS is now using the Maine courts to silence the experts.

The most disturbing element of the “Yes on 1” campaign tactics is their desperate assault on the credibility of the individual bear biologists and the IF&W. Their claims that, because hunting license fees fund the IF&W, biologists are therefore biased and can’t be trusted, is as ridiculous as saying that because doctors are paid by insurance companies, they can’t be trusted with a person’s care.

In 1967, the magnificent bald eagle was listed as a federal endangered species. Biologists and fish and game departments around the country, including the Maine IF&W, were tasked with the job of recovering that iconic bird from the edge of extinction. The American people, knowing sportsmen fees were paying for bald eagle and all endangered species recovery and protection, placed their trust in those same biologists. And guess what, the eagle flies free and fully recovered.

For an organization such as HSUS, which claims to care about all wild animals, to attack our society’s most trusted wildlife protectors has the potential to destroy our nearly 100 years of animal management and protection. And for what purpose? To win a referendum.

Imagine one morning your child awakes with a horrible stomach ache and vomiting. You rush your child to the emergency room expecting to see a doctor, but when you enter the hospital a representative from your health insurance company stops you and hands your child a baby aspirin, and says, “Sorry, but you can’t see the doctor. Call in a week.”

We would all reject this scenario as reckless and irresponsible. The same thing could happen with the lawsuit by the Humane Society.

The integrity of the First Amendment right to free speech can only succeed when society fosters a debate environment, where people can communicate without threats and intimidation, or the use of courts as a tool to silence the truth.

That holds true, not just for the bear debate, but for all debates.

David Trahan is executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

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