Wayne Pacelle: Affirm fundamental respect for wild animals

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The animals in our world and in our lives deserve respect. That’s a fundamental value on which responsible hunters and non-hunters agree.

It may be a long time before everybody sees wildlife issues in exactly the same way. But as Maine’s election campaign heats up on the question of shooting bears, let’s explore the basic values we all claim to hold dear.

Let’s start in 1887. I could go back farther but that’s the year the most prodigious hunter of the day, Theodore Roosevelt, helped found the Boone and Crockett Club to promote hunting — the oldest outfit of its kind in the country.

In plain language, here’s what the club says:

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“Fair Chase, as defined by the Boone and Crockett Club, is the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild, native North American big game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals.”

So let me ask. Does it sound like fair chase to use buckets of sugar doughnuts and pizza crusts as bait to lure bears to a hunter’s blind? Does it sound like fair chase to outsource the chase to a pack of dogs so the hunter can lumber up and shoot a stationary bear 20 feet away on a tree limb? Or to shoot an animal at point-blank range after the bear unwittingly stumbled into a snare trap and then struggled and suffered for hours on end?

Permit me to borrow again from Boone and Crockett’s statement of Hunter Ethics.

” …The hunter engages in a one-to-one relationship with the quarry and his or her hunting should be guided by a hierarchy of ethics …”

The club provides a list of six ethical tenets. Let me quote three of them:

• Exercise a personal code of behavior that reflects favorably on your abilities and sensibilities as a hunter.

• Behave in a way that will bring no dishonor to either the hunter, the hunted, or the environment.

• Recognize that these tenets are intended to enhance the hunter’s experience of the relationship between predator and prey, which is one of the most fundamental relationships of humans and their environment.

I look at those words and I don’t see how there can be disagreement when I say that Dunkin’ Donuts shouldn’t be a bait shop: personal code … reflects favorably … no dishonor … enhance … relationship between predator and prey … fundamental.

But let me concede that I have just one viewpoint on the subject. So I’ll borrow another from David Petersen, a hunter, an uncompromising advocate for hunting, and one of the most thoughtful hunting philosophers alive. In his book, “A Hunter’s Heart,” he recalls a campfire discussion he had with a fellow hunter.

Here is Dave quoting himself: “The greatest threat to hunting isn’t external, my friend; it’s internal, arising from our collective failure to police our own ranks and morals. There’s a lot of wrong with hunting today, and I don’t mean just illegal activities like poaching. The root problem is the hunting community’s hardheaded refusal to admit that some things hunters do, even when legal, are ethically indefensible: baiting, using hounds to tree bears … “

Dave is trying to reform hunting to help hunters. I’m trying to reform hunting for the sake of bears, given that Maine is the only state to allow all three of those bear hunting methods. What I think drives us both is the shared idea of respecting the animals in our lives, and our world.

Question 1 on the Nov. 4 ballot will end baiting, hounding and trapping of bears — practices not permitted for moose or deer.

Question 1 is an invitation from the people of Maine to the people of Maine to join together and affirm their fundamental respect for the wild animals here.

Wayne Pacelle is president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, Washington, D.C.

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