The people of Maine are being told by the governor’s appointed director of the state’s wildlife agency and biologists who answer to their boss, that feeding wild black bears 7 million pounds of junk food every year, chasing them through the woods with GPS-collared hound dogs and then shooting these terrified bears out of a tree or at point-blank range after they have been snared by a leg around bait piles, is part of some sort of great Maine hunting tradition.
None of these three human behaviors sound all that great to many people, including fair chase hunters who oppose each of them.
All those truckloads of junk food in our forests are the very opposite of what every child and every adult has been told forever: Don’t feed wildlife. It isn’t good for them and it is unwise for people to do so.
That’s why the people of Colorado, Oregon and Washington already voted to outlaw these unhealthy and unethical practices. And it has worked out well in all three states, for bears and for people, including hunters.
Common sense tells us, such a massive amount of human junk food is growing the bear population, so that these “excess” bears can be killed, many while actually eating this junk food, by those who have purchased a license to kill them. This sounds more like a bizarre state agency funding (and killing) scheme than real hunting. Because it is.
Chasing bears through their forest homes with hounds, as if they are war criminals, is an act of terrorizing and persecution.
Fair chase hunting requires human skill without terrorizing an innocent bear or any other forest dweller.
And to many people, shooting a trapped animal at point-blank range, while it is caught in a snare around a pile of junk food, especially such a sensitive and intelligent mammal as a bear, is a cruel execution and not true hunting. Certainly, there is no skill involved in firing a bullet into a panicked bear from a few feet away when it has no chance to escape.
These are great Maine hunting traditions? No, they are not.
State biologists in crisp uniforms will tell you otherwise, but their jobs depend on obeying their political bosses.
Even if every politician says it is OK, it is not.
People should use their own common sense and their own sense of right and wrong. And think of the children who are learning from their example and the behavior of other adults in the state.
Thomas Jefferson wrote: “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, and opinions change, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.”
If wildlife policies on both the federal and state levels properly reflected the evolving minds and values of the democratic majority of Americans citizens, including here in Maine, which has grown to favor protection of native wildlife over abusive killing for sport, there would be no need for Maine’s citizens referendum for black bears. Fair chase hunting would be the law of the land as it should be. Those hunters who hunt would have to do the real thing, without persecuting and terrorizing wildlife, without cruelty.
Such policies would re-enforce enlightened wildlife protections such as those embodied in the Endangered Species Act.
And to those who still accord no rights to animals beyond their utility to people, ponder these words of wisdom from President Abraham Lincoln: “I believe in animal rights along with human rights. That is the way of the whole human being.”
The good people of Maine, north and south, can be proud of this state when we place decency and compassion above cruelty and selfishness.
If we do, a firm majority of citizens will vote “yes” on Question 1. A “yes” vote will ban the unethical, unfair and cruel practices of baiting, hounding and snaring that have too long victimized the majestic and gentle black bears here in the forests of this state.
Maine will be a better state when residents say “yes,” for bears, for our children and for what it says about the character of citizens of the state of Maine.
Robert Goldman currently lives in South Portland. He has lived and worked in rural places for many years, around New England, the Rockies, California, Alaska and, for a year, on a farm in Israel.