Lawsuit aims to keep state agency out of bear debate

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PORTLAND (AP) — A group that wants to abolish bear baiting sued Tuesday to stop what it described as illegal campaigning by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife against a Nov. 4 statewide referendum.

Katie Hansberry of Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting accused the department of “using staff time, equipment, and agency dollars to influence a statewide election.” She also said the agency is dragging its feet on a request for an accounting of state resources used to fight the referendum.

Commissioner Chandler Woodcock said the lawsuit filed Tuesday “appears to be politically motivated and designed only to generate headlines.”

Mainers will vote on the proposal to ban the use of bait, dogs, and traps to hunt bears. Critics say the methods are inhumane and already have been banned in most other states, but the state’s bear biologist contends the methods are necessary to keep the bear population in check.

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A similar referendum was defeated in 2004.

The Maine attorney general has given department officials the green light to voice their opinion, but the lawsuit contends the state agency is acting as an advocacy group.

The lawsuit asks a judge to order the agency to stop using state resources to advocate against the referendum, to remove an anti-referendum television ad, and to remove political content from its website. It also asks a judge to require the agency to immediately comply with a Freedom of Access Act request for details on the agency’s campaign-related activities.

Woodcock didn’t appear to be concerned about the lawsuit. “The department is confident that the state will prevail in this matter. There will be no further comment concerning this suit, as this suit appears to be designed to generate publicity,” Woodcock said in a statement.

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