I am a lifelong hunter of French Canadian descent. I strongly support Question 1 to end the baiting, hounding and trapping of Maine’s bears. Here is why:
At least since President Theodore Roosevelt vastly expanded the national forest system and a range of other public lands for use by the masses, hunters have recognized their important role as good stewards of the wildlife resources all of us share, both hunters and non-hunters.
In the 21st century, hunting has become a privilege, and is no longer a necessity of life as it was for many people in days past. It is a privilege that can be lost (as it has in some countries). One of the best ways to preserve the privilege is by assuring that every hunt of all creatures is a fair and ethical one, and not merely a “kill.”
Consistent with code of ethics in hunting Teddy Roosevelt preached, he once famously declined to kill a snared bear when a kill was offered up to him. President Roosevelt’s words and conduct provide a lesson there for all hunters, consistent with the general set of principles connected to the modern era of wildlife management and the broad acceptance of the North American Wildlife Management Model. Those standards, valued by most hunters, include: only pursue prey when it is a fair chase, kill as quickly and humanely as possible, and use the carcass.
I, of course, didn’t know President Roosevelt, and neither did my dad, who nonetheless taught me these principles as I grew up hunting game for our table in rural Kansas. I have sought to pass on those same values to my son as well, and hope he learns to venerate the game we are privileged to take.
Like responsible hunters everywhere, I know we, as hunters, already have a tremendous advantage over the wildlife — we hide in digitally designed camo clothing, conceal our scent with ingeniously blended “blockers,” enhance our vision with binoculars and telescopic sights, and are armed with weapons that are lethal at hundreds of yards away.
Those advantages notwithstanding, I think most serious-minded hunters (and non-hunters alike) would agree on the following: shooting a baited, treed or trapped bear at point-blank range is not hunting at all. It is not sport. It is not fun. It is not fair. It is not ethical. And just because such a kill can be sold to out-of-state shooters, it will never be confused with true hunting.
I now live in Oregon, a state, like Maine, that has many hunters and non-hunters alike. Oregon passed an initiative to ban bear baiting and hounding in 1994, and the state has had no retreat from that policy in the past 20 years.
At the time of the debate over Oregon’s initiative, bear baiting and hounding advocates made the same dire predictions as are now being made in Maine: that hunters would stop hunting, that revenue and economic activity surrounding bear hunting would decline, and that the bear kill would drop to levels approaching zero.
But two decades later, the opposite has happened. There is not a bear on every corner in Oregon, or walking down every street. Bear tag sales have tripled and revenue has increased 214 percent as fair chase hunters have entered the bear hunt in droves. Far from leaving the sport, in-state hunters reclaimed the fair chase bear hunting tradition from the out-of-state trophy hunters who had hijacked it with baiting, hounding, and trapping.
I am confident that a similar thing will happen if Mainers endorse Question 1 on Nov. 4.
I want to add one other thing, because those who wish to detract from my message will vehemently argue that I am just the mouthpiece for the Humane Society of the United States, on whose National Council I am privileged to serve. That is wrong. I wouldn’t be a part of The HSUS if I thought its agenda was to end all hunting. Its decision to welcome me into leadership is a powerful statement that The HSUS seeks balance in humanity’s approach to wildlife.
That is what Question 1 is ultimately about: a fair, humane, and balanced approach to wildlife. I urge every responsible hunter to back this measure. We are the crowd that led to the ban on baiting of waterfowl and the hound hunting of deer and elk. Time to observe those same standards for bears.
René P. Tatro, a lifelong hunter and attorney, serves on the National Council of The Humane Society of the United States.