The stark fact that the Humane Society of the United States has announced its intentions to make another run at banning bear hunting in Maine, as early as next year, ought to be triggering alarm bells, not just in rural Maine and urban Maine, but in the legislative halls in Augusta.

Earlier this month, two legislative bills that would, in all likelihood, represent a preemptive strike against the HSUS anti-hunting initiatives in Maine were heard by the Joint Legislative Committee on Fisheries and Wildlife. Basically, the two bills, LD 703 and LD 753, would amend the state constitution so as to protect the people’s right to hunt and fish and manage wildlife.

From all reports, these bills are going to get an inordinate amount of legislative scrutiny.

That is as it should be.

Constitutions, while not engraved in stone, are not to be altered or amended without care, reflection, and responsible debate. That’s not to say it can’t be done. Maine’s state constitution, as well as the U.S. Constitution, have been changed over the years.

There is admittedly a simplistic, silver-bullet-like aura to the amendments in question that may give lawmakers pause. Nonetheless, these amendments do have the potential to put to rest once and for all this zealous, almost fanatical anti-hunting crusade by HSUS.

Those opposed to the amendments, and they come from both parties in the state, as well as media pundits, will argue that blunting or restricting the parameters of the citizen initiative referendum process is akin to stepping on free speech. It is a seductive argument, but it doesn’t withstand intellectual scrutiny.

HSUS has enjoyed free speech in spades, and it will continue to do so regardless of whether or not we amend the state constitution in a way that will prevent Maine’s wildlife management system from being corrupted by well-heeled national lobby organizations.

During testimony, David Trahan, director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM), addressed this issue:

“Maine is a target of their efforts because we have one of the most liberal referendum systems in the country. Of the 24 states with referendums, Maine has no geographical requirements to collect signatures, 13 states do. Half our population is confined to a few counties in the south. In addition, we are a cheap media market and a relatively poor state that struggles to raise money. For wealthy organizations promoting a national agenda we are easy pickings, ground zero for media exploitation.”

Because societies change and political processes evolve, contemporary circumstances sometimes dictate constitutional accommodation. Given all the facts about HSUS campaign tactics, most fair-minded Mainers would surely agree that HSUS took every advantage, indeed, deceitfully exploited loopholes and weaknesses in our vaunted citizen-initiated referendum process.

Change is called for in that process. At the very least, the state legislature needs to pass LD 1228, a less sweeping change that will introduce geographical representation into the calculus of gathering petition signatures for launching a citizen-referendum question.

The drawback to LD 1228 is that it gives timid, if not spineless, state lawmakers a fallback position, a way to avoid the hard decision: whether to amend the state constitution or not.

Legislators in a number of other states have shown the courage to pass similar constitutional amendments. If Maine’s elected leadership cops out, as it may well do, our state’s sophisticated, nationally-recognized wildlife management system will be the worse for it.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected] . He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.” Online information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com.


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