FALMOUTH (AP) – A group that wants to make it illegal to hunt bears with bait, traps or dogs announced Wednesday that it has enough signatures to put its proposal on next year’s ballot.

Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting said its preliminary numbers show it has doubled its goal of 50,519 signatures.

The group believes it will surpass the Maine Municipal Association’s 2002 record of 100,000 signatures. The secretary of state’s office has not yet validated and certified the petition.

“We are very encouraged to have such a huge expression of support for the referendum at polls throughout the state,” said the group’s director, Robert Fisk Jr. “Signature gatherers everywhere reported numbers that exceeded our expectations.”

Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting contends there is widespread support in Maine to ban hunting of bears with bait, dogs and traps.

Bear hunting would still be legal but those methods would be banned – except to protect property and public safety.

The initiative was one of three petitions circulating at polling places. The others were a smoking petition whose goal is to overturn a state law that bans puffing in bars and a fuel tax initiative seeking to repeal a state law that automatically raises gasoline and diesel taxes each year at the rate of inflation.

Fisk said his group had 500 volunteers collecting signatures at polling places on Election Day.

One of the most successful signature gatherers was Richard Smith, a lifelong hunter from Brunswick who collected 970 signatures.

“I had hunter after hunter tell me that this was not sport and they were angry and disgusted that hunting in Maine had to be associated with these unsportsmanlike killing methods,” said Smith.

Bear baiting – where hunters put out stale food or other items to attract bears – is legal in 10 of the 40 states with black bears.

AP-ES-11-12-03 1545EST

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