By Rep. Ellie Espling

By now, most people have probably heard that there is an effort afoot to pass a referendum at the polls next November that would dismantle Maine’s longstanding bear-management policies. What people may not have heard is the unnerving truth about the organization behind that ill-conceived effort, as well as some of the facts that prove just how misguided it is.

The effort to effectively end Maine’s traditional annual bear hunt is being led by a newly-formed organization called “Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting.” Its website is full of pictures of cuddly-looking bear cubs and emotional appeals.

What is not so apparent, however, is the fact that the shadow-group is not made up of Mainers at all, but is simply a hollow website maintained by the Washington, D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States.

HSUS is an extremist group that misleads the public and profits greatly off of its prolific fundraising efforts. People may know it for its television ads that feature Sarah McLachlan singing and soliciting contributions to support its animal shelters. What is not mentioned is that only one percent of its $100 million racket actually goes to animal shelters.

In fact, Charity Watch, an organization that investigates and rates charities, has given HSUS a “D” grade for spending most of its contributions on overhead and executive salaries, instead of philanthropic work.


Right here in Maine, its professional lobbyist was found guilty of ethics violations in her efforts to influence Maine legislators, and most of the state’s local Humane Society chapters have notably withheld their endorsement of the national organization’s frantic campaign to stop Maine’s traditional bear hunt.

No, HSUS is absolutely not an organization that Mainers should listen to when deciding whether to keep or discard this state’s highly regarded scientific bear management program and longstanding hunting traditions. A better source is the state’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which says that “black bears are thriving in Maine” and “Maine has a ‘state of the art’ bear management program.”

According to the department, Maine’s bear population has increased 67 percent since 1990, currently standing at 30,000. That’s the largest bear population in the eastern United States. Furthermore, Maine’s annual bear-hunt harvest has declined 23 percent since 2005. The bear population is nowhere close to being overhunted — in fact, quite the opposite.

Maine’s wildlife department has monitored the bear population and hunts since 1969 with markings, radio collars, den-site visits, and data gathered on bear birth rates, behavior, and condition — all to ensure the health and vitality of the bear population.

The department seeks public input on its bear management policies, and has concluded that “regulated hunting is the primary tool to achieve (the) public’s goals and objectives.”

For a preview of what things are like in states that forbid bear hunts, we need look no farther than New Jersey. In the Garden State, bear hunts were illegal for a time before being brought back in 2011 because the state was being overrun by bears. Bears were attacking humans two or three times per year in a state noted for its suburban sprawl. One elderly woman looked on helplessly as a bear tore apart her 16-year-old Border Collie right in front of her in the middle of their housing development.


Since bringing the bear hunt back, New Jersey has gone from 47 home entries by bears to 25, and there were no more attacks on humans in 2012.

Agenda-driven groups such as HSUS would have people believe that it is acceptable for bears to attack humans because their instinct is to protect their cubs. However, a 2011 study from the University of Calgary found that in 88 percent of bear-on-human attacks, the bear was not defending itself or its cubs, but rather acting as a predator, with humans as their prey.

That certainly seemed to be the case when a black bear attacked 12-year-old Abby Wetherell of Michigan while she was jogging last month. Abby was one of seven victims of bear attacks nationwide over a span of just seven days in August. “This is it,” she said to NBC reporters after surviving the attack. “I’m not going to see my family ever again.”

I encourage all Mainers to think twice when they begin to see the inevitable slew of cleverly-marketed advertisements designed by Washington-based public relations firms to push an anti-hunting agenda. For more information, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine is an excellent resource.

Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, represents New Gloucester, Durham, and part of Lisbon. She serves on the Maine Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.

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