Much has been said and written about how the passage of the bear referendum (Question 1) would be an economic disaster, particularly for northern and western mountain regions with low human population densities.
The opposition claims the passage of the referendum would decimate Maine’s bear guiding industry and could result in a $50-$60 million loss of income related to bear baiting, hounding and trapping. A closer look would suggest that this may not be true and, in actuality, it could be just the opposite.
There has been only one study on the economy directly related to Maine bear hunting. That 1988 study estimated that bear hunting generated $6.4 million, including $3.4 million of “new money” provided by non-resident hunters.
In the 2004 referendum, the opposition used a figure of $12 million that would be lost.
Although the number of bear hunters In Maine has not changed since 2004, opponents now say the loss will somehow be five times greater. That is the same group whose 2004 in-house economic impact study predicting doom and gloom was completely discredited. No other measures of economic benefit of bear hunting have been published.
In 2013, the Maine Office of Fiscal and Program Review found that there would be no negative impacts from ending these practices here in Maine.
It also should be put into perspective that bear hunting revenue is a very small fraction of the general hunting and fishing income. Bear guiding is only a three-month season. Even with using the high figure of $12 million to include ancillary economic benefits from retail sales, taxidermy, lodging, etc., bear hunting income of all kinds is less than 2 percent of all hunting and fishing revenue to the Maine economy.
It is even less when considering general outdoor recreational revenue that exceeds $1 billion annually.
In states that passed similar referendums — Oregon, Washington and Colorado — the sales of bear licensing for fair-chase hunting surged, increasing licensing revenue for the state.
More importantly, no one is mentioning that passage of the referendum could be a great opportunity to create a new business model that ultimately strengthens those ancillary businesses, spurring a positive economic transition that can happen when necessity creates such an incentive. That better business model has the industry embracing the new fair-chase hunters and eco-tourism that continues to grow in Maine.
Being that it is more difficult to hunt bear in a fair-chase situation, it is reasonable to conclude more bear hunters will want the assistance of a guide. Be proactive and begin to think how to market and appeal to this new group of hunters. The only real change for the outfitters is that the bear baiting guides will reflect the role of professional Maine Guides, not throwing 7 million pounds of junk food in Maine forests in about 5,000 sites.
The larger outfitters and bear guiding operations, especially within the confines of the North Maine Woods Inc. gate complex, are a pretty exclusive group. Eliminating baiting would spread the current annual income of a few to many, and creating a demand for a larger number of guides.
A special report done in 2001 for the Maine Audubon Society, titled “Watching out for Maine,” cites the 10-year decline in numbers of hunters in Maine while there has been a 10-year growth in all forms of eco-tourism. The report states “Wildlife associated recreation is an important part of nature tourism, the fastest growing segment of the travel industry, averaging annual increases of 30 percent each year since 1987.”
Significant increases included wildlife viewing, hiking, primitive outdoor camping, bird watching and outdoor photography, many of which could be enhanced with the aid of a knowledgeable Registered Maine Guide.
The number of non-consumptive wildlife users since the 2001 report continues to grow.
More than 250,000 people travel to our state every year as non-consumptive users of Maine wildlife in recreational activities and outnumber Maine sportsmen 5-to-1 in numbers and economic impact. There is an opportunity here.
It will take some changes, and there will likely be a transition period, but if guides pride themselves in their forest and wildlife knowledge, they should be able and willing to adapt, especially given the upside in such a transition.
Most any industry/business has to change with the times to remain viable. Whether it is a health club, computer business, potato grower, restaurant or most any small business, change is an inevitable part of doing business. The combination of an increase in fair-chase bear guiding and moving into some aspects of eco-tourism will ultimately result in an industry that is more diversified, professional and poised for success in the future.
Finally, this is primarily a small group of guides making money on mostly out-of-state, lazy, unskilled trophy hunters who want to come to Maine for a quick kill to bring home a bear head or rug. It is an economic activity based on cruelty that Maine should willingly disassociate itself with.
Vote “yes” on Question 1.
Robert Fisk Jr., Falmouth, is president and director of Maine Friends of Animals and was campaign director for the proponents in the 2004 bear referendum.