AUGUSTA — Despite years of rejecting such legislation, Maine lawmakers are again being urged by The Humane Society of the United States to end bear trapping and hunting bear with hounds.
In a news report Tuesday, the society praised state Sen. Edward Mazurek, D-Rockland, for introducing legislation that would enact comprehensive protections for bears.
It would end “the cruel and unsporting practices of bear hounding and trapping, prohibit the trade in bear parts such as gallbladders for the black market, enact felony-level penalties for repeat bear poachers, and prevent the opening of a spring bear hunting season when mother bears are nursing dependent cubs,” the release stated.
“Maine has the shameful distinction as the only place in the country with both recreational bear trapping and hounding— trophy hunting practices that are completely devoid of fair chase and do not respect Maine’s hunting traditions,” Katie Hansberry, Maine state director for The Humane Society of the United States, said.
“Comprehensive legislation to protect bears from these inhumane practices, poaching and gallbladder trafficking is long overdue,” she said.
In 2004, Maine voters defeated a proposal to outlaw bear trapping and hunting bear with bait or dogs.
Since then, state lawmakers have repeatedly rejected similar attempts.
Proponents of the proposed 2004 ban had portrayed baiting, trapping and hounding as unsportsmanlike and unnecessary.
According to Tuesday’s report, trappers typically bait bears with an unnatural diet of grease and pastries to attract them to a particular spot in the woods.
They are only required to check their traps once a day and the immobilized bear can suffer for hours. An animal’s instinct is to break free from these foot snare traps, which can lead to extensive injuries, the report states.
Hounding involves fitting dogs with high-tech radio collars or GPS devices that allow trophy hunters to monitor the dogs’ movement remotely, the report states.
At the end of the chase, which can last for hours, the exhausted bear takes refuge in a tree and the shooter can kill his cornered prey, often shooting the animal off a tree branch at point-blank range, the report states. Sometimes the bear turns to fight the dogs on the ground, which can injure or kill the dogs and/or the bear.
Despite many excellent alternatives, bear gallbladders and bile are used in some traditional Chinese medicine and cosmetics, fueling the trade in bear parts which can be worth thousands of dollars overseas, the report states. The market for bear parts incentivizes poaching across the United States and abroad.
These unsporting and inhumane practices are entirely out of sync with Maine’s hunting traditions – just 13 percent of the bears killed in Maine are taken by hounding, most by out-of-state trophy hunters, the report states.
Trapping accounts for less than 3 percent of the total bear take.
Current Maine law only authorizes a fall bear hunting season.
The society also advocates that spring hunting of bears should not be authorized because cubs are still dependent on their mothers at that time, and spring hunting inevitably leads to orphaning.
In light of recent proposals to open spring hunting, the bill that Mazurek introduced clarifies that such hunting is explicitly prohibited under law, the report states.
The bill deters chronic bear poachers by elevating penalties to a class C felony for repeat violators who commit the most egregious wildlife crimes, including illegal night hunting, illegal road hunting, killing over the bag limit and the intentional waste of game.
According to the report, Maine is the only state in the country to allow recreational bear trapping. It’s also one of only four states that does not prohibit the trade in bear parts. The others are Vermont, Idaho and Wyoming.
Fourteen states – including major hunting states such as Montana, Pennsylvania and Wyoming – allow bear hunting, but prohibit the use of hounds, the report states.