Kathy Pollard: Bears pose no problem now and won’t in the future

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I had not seen the opposition to fair chase (Vote ‘no’ on Question 1) ads sponsored by Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife until an angry life-long hunter friend told me game wardens were appearing in commercials using scare tactics to foster the myth that if Question 1 passes, all hell will break loose with Maine’s black bears.

Hearing this, I viewed Warden Chris McCabe’s commercial online. The message was exactly as recounted.

But there’s a problem with the logic of IF&W’s argument. It says Maine has 33,000 bears and about 3 percent are harvested annually. That leaves still more than 30,000 bears come spring. Yet Maine doesn’t have a significant problem with them. With rare exceptions, bears live their lives in the solitude of the Maine forests, minding their business, as bears more accurately are known to do.

IF&W claims that ending unethical and cruel bear hunting practices would lead to lower hunter success, causing the population to skyrocket which, in turn, would result in mayhem.

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Does it seriously believe 3,000 more bears waking up come spring will make that big a difference? If 30,000 bears are not already raising mayhem in school playgrounds and people’s back yards, why would a few more change that?

I studied wildlife biology at the University of Maine and understand the science of wildlife management — which differs significantly from its politics.

I have been a life-long naturalist and I have spent thousands of hours out in Maine’s wilderness (black bear habitat), paid to work alone or with a partner in Baxter State Park and Bigelow Mountain region; conducting animal and vegetation studies, or just seeking the solitude of wild places, gathering foods, medicines and materials for my art and baskets. I am completely comfortable alone in the woods and wilds.

In all these years, I have only once come in close contact with a bear.

I was answering a call of nature and looked up to see a two-year-old male walking toward me. We saw each other simultaneously. The look on its face was hilarious given the context — an expression of pure shock and horror. He did an immediate about-face, got down on all fours and ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction.

That is the normal way bears respond to humans, unless variables — such as a wounded or starving bear, a sow with cubs, an extremely rare bad-tempered rogue, or human food — is a factor in the encounter.

Some black bears get disoriented and end up where they don’t belong, and some are troublemakers. But, contrary to what IF&W would have people believe, those are rare occurrences, even with more than 30,000 bears in Maine.

I will vote “yes” on Question 1, to ban three bear hunting practices that are unethical and cruel. Trapping bears allows guides to profit by leading customers to a bear held by its foot in a snare so that it cannot escape execution. Even Ted Roosevelt, who hunted the world over and slaughtered thousands of animals for sport, would not stoop that low when a guide tied up an old bruin for him to shoot after an unsuccessful bear hunting expedition.

Neither traps nor radio-collared hounds can distinguish a sow with cubs from a bruin or young baby. Mothers are killed, their orphaned cubs within sight, and baby bears are shot. If people don’t believe that, just look online at the photos of big happy men posing over the little bears they have killed.

Using hounds to run down bears that finally can run no more is bad for both. Babies can be disoriented and killed by dogs, separated from their mothers, and many hounds are injured or killed when they tangle with a large bear who stands his or her ground.

Putting millions of pounds of garbage into Maine’s forests conditions bears to the paired association of humans and food, one of the risk factors for trouble. None of these three practices is ethical and none passes the “fair chase” test.

IF&W claims ethics should not enter into this argument, yet ethics and fair chase are considered, and cited, when regulating how other species are hunted, so why shouldn’t they be applicable to hunting bears and abusing dogs?

Misleading IF&W-sponsored opposition to fair chase ads prey on the general public’s ignorance about wildlife behavior and biology, and are delivered with the mantra: “Trust our wildlife biologists.”

My response is: trust your gut feeling about animal cruelty. The victims of IF&W’s misguided policies — the bears and dogs — have no voice. It is up to the people of Maine to ensure this chapter of cruel and archaic hunting practices is finally closed for good.

That can be accomplished by voting “yes” on Question 1.

Kathy Pollard is a Maine writer and artist/basket-maker residing in Orono. She studied wildlife management/biology at the University of Maine, worked for the Maine Caribou Reintroduction Project, conducted numerous deer population surveys and deer, caribou and moose parasite studies collaboratively for the IF&W and the Caribou Project.

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