LEWISTON — While there may only be a handful of debates between the candidates hoping to be Maine’s next governor, one issue they won’t have to deliberate is whether the state should outlaw the practice of using bait and dogs when hunting bears.

The campaigns of all three candidates said they don’t support changing Maine law and are in opposition to a citizen-backed ballot measure asking voters to do just that.

“Maine has one of the best, scientifically sound bear management programs in the nation,” 2nd District U.S. Congressman Mike Michaud, the Democrat in the race, said. “I firmly believe that decisions about method of take should be left to the experts at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife who have been properly managing our bear population for decades.”

Michaud said bear hunting is an important part of Maine’s rural economy and tourism industry. “The proposed ban would hurt guides, camp owners and other small businesses. We should let science be our guide on this issue.”

Eliot Cutler, the independent candidate in the race, seemed to agree. Crystal Canney, spokeswoman for his campaign, said he didn’t support the change.

“Our hunting and fishing heritage is important to all of us, and it will always be on the top of my mind when I am governor,” Cutler said in a prepared statement. “As governor, I will work with those who are guiding, running sporting camps and maintaining snowmobile trails to put Maine back on the national map for all of our four-season outdoor activities.”

Likewise, Alex Willette, the spokesman for incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s campaign, said LePage also supports maintaining the status quo and not disrupting a wildlife management practice that has served the state well for decades.

“Gov. LePage supports keeping Maine’s current bear hunting laws in place, protecting Maine’s great outdoor heritage for future generations,” Willette said.

On Sunday, Wayne Pacelle, president of the U.S. Humane Society, was going door-to-door in Portland to drum up support for the ballot measure that would put an end to the use of bait and hunting dogs in the pursuit of black bears in Maine.

Mainers rejected a similar ballot question in 2004, 53 percent to 47 percent.

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