FALMOUTH (AP) – The leader of a group that led an unsuccessful referendum to restrict bear hunting in Maine had a message for the day after the election: The group is not folding up and moving on.

Robert Fisk of Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting said the referendum may have failed but it succeeded in bringing attention to what he described as unethical hunting practices and the need for change in wildlife management decision making.

“We’re not going to go away,” Fisk said Wednesday from his office in Falmouth. “Never before has the public known as much about these practices and never have there been so many people who want them ended.”

The failed referendum called for banning the use of bait, traps and hounds in hunting Maine’s estimated 23,000 bears.

With 90 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, opponents had 333,550 votes, or 53 percent, and supporters of the ban had 292,035 votes, or 47 percent, in unofficial election returns.

A similar proposal that would have outlawed baiting black bears was defeated Tuesday by voters Alaska.

In Maine, the proposed hunting restrictions drew the most support in Cumberland County, with a “yes” vote of 58 percent. The measure also won majorities in York and Knox counties.

Maine’s other 13 counties voted against the proposal.

The biggest margins of defeat came in counties where bear hunting is strongest: 69 percent in Piscataquis; 66 percent in Somerset; 65 percent in Aroostook and 64 percent in Penobscot.

Edith Leary of the Maine Fish & Wildlife Conservation Council, which opposed the ban, said the results came as no surprise.

“The raw fact is that in York County and Cumberland County there are more non-hunters and people who have not been exposed to black bears, and their economy would not have been affected by the referendum,” she said.

Leary said sportsmen viewed the measure as “a major threat, not only to their hunting heritage but to their livelihoods.”

She welcomed Fisk’s vow that the group which initiated the referendum will continue to press its stance on wildlife and hunting-related issues in Maine.

“We can all get involved,” she said. “There are public working groups (and) hearings in the Legislature. There’s a myriad of other opportunities for people to get involved to help effect any needed changes.”

Bear hunting is allowed in 28 states. Going into Election Day, 11 allowed baiting and 17 allowed hunters to use dogs. Maine is the only state allows all three methods: hounds, traps and bait.

Both sides traded attacks in an expensive campaign involving emotionally charged advertisements featuring audio recordings of a moose mauling and footage of trapped bears being shot at point-blank range.

Fisk, whose campaign was outspent 2-to-1, admitted the TV ads were disturbing.

“They may be difficult footage to watch, but it’s the truth,” Fisk said.

Fisk said he’d also like to see others who enjoy the outdoors – bird watchers, hikers and others – have a say in wildlife management.

Wildlife decisions are made by a few legislators, a special interest group and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, “which are all personally, politically, ideologically and financially connected,” he said.

“This campaign has exposed this good ol’ boy network that’s managing our wildlife,” Fisk said.

AP-ES-11-03-04 1443EST



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