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COLUMN: M.D. Harmon
It's odd that, with a national election pending and with a major referendum vote coming up on a tax cap proposal that some fear (and others hope) will place a serious restraint on local spending, many Mainers are focused on something else:Black bears.That's because referendum Question 2 is going to ask Mainers, "Do you want to make it a crime to hunt bears with bait, traps or dogs except to protect property, public safety or research?" If voters approve it, the only way to bag a bear will be the old-fashioned way, tracking them with skill and patience.According to some sources, though, more than three-quarters of moose hunters are successful and roughly a fourth of deer hunters get a buck or doe, while only about 3 percent of bear hunters who don't use one of the three methods listed on the ballot come home with a bear.Those aren't very good odds, you might think (if you were inclined to favor hunting bear at all), and you would be right.That's why some guides, who after all like to maximize their clients' chances of success, favor baiting and hounding bears (reportedly boosting their odds to 50-50). Trappers understandably want to keep their methods legal, too - and so far, the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife agrees with both of them.I haven't been much of a hunter lately, but as a teen and young adult I spent a lot of time in the woods of northwestern Pennsylvania, where I grew up. The deciduous forest which covered the counties I hunted and hiked in abounded with deer and bear, along with turkey, rabbit and many other game species.In all the time I spent in the woods, however, while I saw plenty of deer and other game (my sister made a great rabbit stew, as long as you were careful not to bite down too hard on the No. 4 shot), I never saw a bear in the woods while hunting.They are not all that plentiful, at least compared to deer, and like most wildlife, they tend to avoid encountering people in their own habitat if they possibly can. However, they don't fear us, as (like moose) they have no natural enemies in the wild - so when one finds something to ingest in your back yard, garage or driveway, it's chompin' time.As the bumper sticker puts it, "I didn't work my way to the top of the food chain for nothing."I did see a lot of bears in one place, though. It was a family treat, in the days before dumps became landfills and landfills became transfer stations, to go out to a dump near Allegany State Park, just across the New York border, and watch the many bears that came there to paw through the garbage for food.My family, being sensible, kept everyone in the cars with the windows rolled up. That didn't stop other people from getting out and trying the feed the bears by tossing them snacks they had brought along.We even saw one very foolish person tear a sandwich in half and, keeping one half in his hand, offer the other half to a bear. As my uncle pointed out to me and my cousins, "What do you think would happen if the bear wanted the whole sandwich?"Still, I'm not sure how I'm going to vote on this issue. In fact, because I don't have strong opinions either way, I may not vote on it at all. I understand the feelings of people who think that trapping, baiting or using hounds to get a bear is somehow unsporting, and that hunters should have to track down their prey.Yet, there is an undercurrent to this debate, carried by some who appear to think it's wrong to hunt animals at all. It's odd they don't also criticize those who pick up pieces of cow, pig and chicken nicely shrink-wrapped at the meat counter, or order a steak at Outback or Bugaboo Creek. I guess it depends on whose ox is filleted. Or something like that.In fact, baiting, trapping and hounding game has a long tradition in this country. A good coon hound is worth its weight in Jim Beam in the South, while people who hunt the newly prolific turkey hereabouts have learned by now that all you get when you chase them is tired. Turkey are hunted by sitting motionless in blinds and making sexy noises - well, sexy to a turkey, anyway.So, it's hard for me to see why it's wrong to hunt bears with dogs, but it's OK to hunt raccoons with them. Or, why it's vile to lure bears with doughnuts (I'd hold out for coffee, too), while it's fine to attract turkeys with the false and fatal hope of romance.And it seems more than a little strange that the referendum's backers say it's wrong for the state to authorize hunters and trappers to keep the bear population at a reasonable level with these methods, but it's fine (as the question itself says) for the state to use the same methods - to do what?Oh, to keep the bear population at a reasonable level.I guess somebody needs to explain that to me again.M.D. Harmon is an editorial page writer and editor. He can be contacted at 791-6482 or at:
Let's get another 700 post thread going ;)
Nah, just a measely 700. let's go for an all-time record like the number of signatures collected for the bear referendum, 103,000.
Oh, Lord. Not another bear referendum forum for MaineLy Meathead to pounce on. Enough, please!
Randall states 103,000 signatures.In the November 2003 election over 500,000 people voted.Referendum pushers had signature collectors all over the state that day.If all 103,000 signatures were to have been collected at that time it would mean that 80% of the voters DID NOT sign the petition.