Whenever we’ve confronted terrible cruelty, there’s always been a fierce effort to defend it. I think of tough fights in Louisiana to ban cockfighting, in California on Prop 2 and extreme confinement, and on bear baying in South Carolina.
Seldom do we see unanimous support for reform. There are always opinion leaders who don’t accept the real meaning of animal protection, or others who excuse cruelty or think it’s too much, too fast.
That’s certainly the case in Maine, where there is a looming ballot initiative to ban bear baiting, hounding, and trapping. There, some opinion leaders defend this sort of cruelty and unfair treatment. But I’m struck by so many people calling cruelty for what it is.
The Journal Tribune says, “It’s hard to imagine a self-respecting, lifelong, traditional Maine woodsman calling himself a hunter when all he does is shoot a feeding, treed or trapped animal point-blank.”
The paper gives readers a clear picture of what these practices involve:“Traps only need to be checked once every 24 hours, which can leave an animal tormented for a lengthy period of time, and even though the snares no longer have cutting teeth, they can still result in the loss of a paw or digits as the animal attempts to escape. Hounding, while it requires significant time commitment in training dogs, places both the hunting dogs and the bear in danger as they confront one another.”
Further, the York County Coast Star says, “Maine is one of a last handful of states where baiting is allowed, and for good reason. The practice, akin to shooting fish in a barrel, is simply inhumane, and we see nothing sportsmanlike in shooting bears that have been lulled into a near sugar coma by stale doughnuts.”
The group of community papers including the Penobscot Bay Press, Castine Patriot, Island Ad-Vantages, and the Weekly Packet have also rendered their judgment, stating, “It is time that Maine joins the 21st century by showing respect and compassion for a species that shares our land and resources by stopping these unnecessarily cruel and harmful practices. We recommend a strong and unequivocal yes vote.”
And Current Publishing’s chain of newspapers across southern Maine emphatically states, “It’s cruel on many levels…We believe that the act of luring and killing snared bears just doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t even seem like hunting. And we’re not sure why a hunter would feel satisfied with such a kill. Instead of allowing this method of hunting to continue, bring back bear hunting the way it should be.”
Even the papers that oppose Question 1 couldn’t find a lot of favorable things to say about these practices or those who defend them. The Portland Press Herald says, “A bear that’s chased by hounds has to run for its life and spends its last minutes terrified. A bear that steps in a cable snare can spend as long as 24 hours tethered to a tree before a hunter returns to shoot it.”
The Press Herald acknowledges that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife “overreached” in its public campaign against Question 1 and judged that the TV ads “featuring uniformed state employees warning of a public safety crisis that could occur if the referendum passes were unnecessarily alarmist.”
The Bangor Daily News, too, says the state agency opposing Question 1 is making “low-quality arguments that don’t pass the straight-face test.” The paper also calls on politicians and state officials to do away with bear hounding and trapping: “If it fails at the polls, the Legislature and IF&W need to ban recreational bear trapping and hounding, or risk having this costly fight again.”
That doesn’t inspire much confidence in the decision makers who have made Maine an outlier, as the only state to still allow these three extreme bear hunting methods. They’ve had years to get it right, but they continue to allow bears to struggle and suffer in wire traps for hours or even a day, or to be chased by packs of GPS-collared hounds and shot off a tree branch. And they allow garbage dumps to be set up in the woods, with 7 million pounds of Twinkies and jelly doughnuts every year swelling the bear population and creating nuisance bears.
When the politicians and state officials are unresponsive to the wishes of the public, it’s time for the public to weigh in. Mainers can do just that in two weeks—and can end cruel and unsporting bear baiting, hounding, and trapping—by voting “YES” on Question 1.