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Bears on the Ballot: Maine's Black Bear Season at Stake

Maine's black bear hunting methods are on the ballot November 4th.

Maine wildlife officials are trying to deal with the expanding bear population while the animal rights groups are pressuring for a ban on historical hunting methods. Maine is the only state that allows hunting black bears by baiting, use of dogs and trapping. The Maine Black Bear Hunting Ban Initiative will appear as Question 1 for voters in the upcoming election.

Joe Riekers

Anti-hunting groups are asking voters whether baiting, the use of dogs and trapping should be banned except on protect property, for public safety or research. This effort is led by a group called Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting. They cite unfair advantages to hunters, and untrue sportsmanship as some of the reason to ban the hunting methods.

On the other side of the debate, a group called Save Maine's Bear Hunt has the support of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Save Maine's Bear Hunt campaign manager James Cody said 93 percent of the bear kills in last year's bear hunt were from one of the three methods that could be banned. State wildlife officials has released data that shows 72 percent of the bears killed were with the use of bait.

Recent events involving black bear run-ins throughout the country give opponents of Question 1 solid ground to stand on. Recently, a jogger was attacked and killed by a black bear in New Jersey and a man who suffered a heart attack was later eaten by a black bear in Northern California. New Jersey official also recently had to deal with a black bear that was spotted near an elementary school.

Photo by Joe Riekers
Joe Riekers

Maine's bear population has risen by over 7,000 animals in the past few years to an estimated statewide total of 30,000 plus. Last year 2,845 black bears were taken by hunters using one of the three methods at stake. Judy Camuso of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said, "We allow these methods because we need them all to control the bear population."

Maine has a vibrant cottage industry of bear hunting lodges, guides and outfitters. Over 5,000 bear hunting permits are purchased by out-0f-state hunters every year, with an equal number purchased by residents. Spending by Maine's black bear hunters is an important infusion to local economies, especially in the northern part of the state.

Hunting with bait or using dogs does not guarantee a kill, but the odds are far greater than just wandering around in the woods. Hunting methods in states that do not allow baiting or use of dogs includes waiting on known bear trails, scouting large fields where bear can be stalked if spotted and stand hunting over a natural food source. Some hunters have been successful with calling bear using predator calls.

This is not the first time Maine has faced a vote on bear hunting methods. 10 years ago, a similar ballot initiative was defeated by a 53-47 percent vote. Polls show this years percentages to be similar with the n0-ban voters gaining momentum.

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Bears on the Ballot: Maine's Black Bear Season at Stake