BANGOR (AP) – A television ad by opponents of a referendum to restrict bear hunting has come under fire from backers of the proposal who question the use of state employees in political campaigns.

The 30-second spot, which began running Tuesday on stations across Maine, features state bear biologist Jennifer Vashon citing the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s opposition to the proposed ban on hunting with bait, hounds and traps.

“These advertisements featuring state employees engaging in naked(ly) political activities should be taken off the air immediately,” said Bruce Merrill, attorney for Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting.

Vashon, a DIFW employee, was not available for comment, but department spokesman Mark Latti said the biologist made the advertisement on her own time and was not paid.

A July memo from Gov. John Baldacci’s office said department staff members may appear in campaign events and advertisements as long as they are not in uniform. Dick Davies, the memo’s author, said the ad reflected Vashon’s right to free speech.

“We can’t tell her to do it, we can’t tell her not to do it,” Davies said.

Edie Leary, spokeswoman for Maine’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Council, said the group asked Vashon to participate in the ad because of her scientific credentials.

“The bear biologists are the experts on the bear population in Maine. Of course it makes sense for them to speak out on what the impacts of the bear referendum will be,” Leary said.

Bob Fisk of Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting said Vashon clearly identifies herself as a state employee and the ad states her department’s stance on the issue, not just her personal opinion.

“She’s not out there as an individual citizen. She’s out there representing the department, and that clearly crosses the line,” he said.

AP-ES-09-15-04 0945EDT

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