AUGUSTA, Maine; TRENTON, New Jersey––Asking Maine voters to abolish baiting bears by ballot initiative on November 4, 2014, the Humane Society of the U.S. appears to be taking the politically most ambitious approach to the issue, but Friends of Animals on October 22, 2014 introduced the most attention-grabbing tactic.
Announced FoA campaign director Edita Birnkrant, whose surname means “home of bears” in Old German, “Friends of Animals believes it is obscene that from December 8 through December 13, New Jersey hunters can lure bears with pizza, jelly donuts and other junk food in the woods before shooting them—so we’ll be bringing vegan donuts and other treats to the State House on December 4 to prompt Governor Chris Christie into speaking with us and outraged New Jersey residents who want the slaughter of bears in their state to end.”
By his own admission overweight and addicted to junk food, Christie has often been photographed with donuts in hand during public appearances.
Baiting Christie at the top of the October 22 media release, FoA went on to object to New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife efforts to boost bear hunting by distributing recipes for bear meat and attributing the September 22, 2014 death of Rutgers University senior Darsh Patel, 22, to alleged bear overpopulation.
“The black bear population in New Jersey is estimated to be about 2,800,” summarized Minjae Park of the Hackensack Record. “For the past four years the state DEP has held a controversial six-day bear hunt,” coinciding with the rifle deer season. “Each year, fewer bears have been killed. In 2010, 592 bears were killed, compared with 251 last year. State officials have said the 1,000-square-mile hunting zone has North America’s densest bear population,” but the declining numbers of bears killed indicate that the population is falling fast.
Made common mistakes
Patel’s death, in any event, resulted from the typical mistakes of inexperienced hikers.
Reported Seth Augenstein of the Newark Star-Ledger, “Two [other] hikers, a man and woman, warned the group of five men including Patel about the bear following them in the Apshawa Preserve, said Chief Timothy Storbeck of the West Milford Police. But the group of five continued on, spotting the bear and taking pictures of the animal with their cell phones from what they thought was a safe distance. They were wrong. Even though they turned around, the bear pursued the five––at first walking, then running.”
Fewer than half a dozen people are known to have been killed by black bears east of the Mississippi River since 1900.
Maine initiative fight
While baiting bears into rifle range in New Jersey briefly took the media spotlight, the HSUS-sponsored Maine ballot initiative appears to be the most hotly contested animal-related measure on any state ballot in 2014.
Question 1 on Maine ballots, the initiative would prohibit baiting bears, trapping them, and hunting them with hounds. The initiative wording is similar to that of initiatives approved by voters in Massachusetts, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon between 1992 and 1996. But an identically worded initiative failed in Maine in 2004, by a margin of 47% in favor to 53% opposed.
“State campaign finance reports say the pro-ban group Mainers For Fair Bear Hunting has raised $1.36 million in 2014 while Maine Wildlife Conservation Council, the largest group opposing the ban, has raised $1.87 million this year,” reported Patrick Whittle of Associated Press on October 11, 2014. “More than 96% of Mainers For Fair Bear Hunting’s money is coming from HSUS and the Humane Society Legislative Fund. The Maine Wildlife Conservation Council’s money is coming from many sources, including the Ohio-based U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, the Arizona-based Safari Club International, and numerous other out-of-state hunting groups, from the Oregon United Sporting Dog Association to the Vermont chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.”
The Maine Professional Guides Association had contributed $111,278 to trying to stop the bear protection initiative, Whittle wrote. The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, the National Rifle Association, and various other opponents of the initiative had chipped in $350,000.
More than half of the money raised on either side of the issue was allocated to television advertising.
“It’s likely to be won and lost on TV,” said Maine Wildlife Conservation Council spokesperson James Cote.
Maine wildlife agency sued for taking sides
Affirming that perspective, Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting on September 30, 2014 sued the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife for allegedly misusing public funds to broadcast online and television ads featuring staff biologists and game wardens speaking against the initiative.
Wrote Bangor Daily News staff reporter Aislinn Sarnacki, “The lawsuit also alleges that DIF&W failed to respond to requests for public documents filed in March 2013 and May 2014 under the Maine Freedom of Access Act concerning its black bear management program and campaign activities.”
Charged Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting campaign director Katie Hansberry, “The DIF&W has mounted a full-scale political campaign that goes well beyond the boundaries of fair comment. To defeat Question 1, they have used public funds, property and staff time without the legal authority to do so.”
Maine Justice Joyce Wheeler late on October 22, 2014 rejected the Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting petition. Reasoned Wheeler in a 15-page verdict, “DIFW’s advocacy activities are based on their experience and expertise and relate to initiatives that it perceives would have serious consequences for their effective management of Maine’s bear population…If Plaintiffs do not like DIFW’s speech, its remedy is to vote out of office or limit the conduct of those officials by law by petitioning the Maine Legislature to pass a law limiting DIFW’s ability to fund and participate in campaign activities with other groups such as Ballot Question Committees.”
Media support initiative
Though the DIF&W won, it “overreached,” in the view of the Portland Press Herald, which editorially opposes the bear protection initiative.
Most other leading Maine news media have endorsed the initiative.
If the initiative fails, said the Bangor Daily News, “The legislature and DIF&W need to ban recreational bear trapping and hounding, or risk having this costly fight again.”
Editorialized the Current Publishing newspaper group, “We believe that the act of luring and killing snared bears just doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t even seem like hunting.”
Agreed the York County Coast Star, “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 donuts.”
“Don’t feed the bears!”
“Don’t feed the bears,” whether to hunt them or for any other purpose, is a message almost as old as wildlife conservation agencies, emerging at about the same time as the teddy bear early during the tenure of Theodore Roosevelt as U.S. President (1901-1909).
Reported the Oshkosh Daily, of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on October 17, 1905 about a five-day visit to the Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone National Park by one Miss Marvin of the Wisconsin Normal School Faculty, “Signs reading ‘Don’t feed the bears’ are conspicuously posted. The reason for this is that the management desires the bears to find food only in certain places in order that they may not molest camping parties.”
Whether Teddy Roosevelt himself had anything to do with promulgating the “Don’t feed the bears” message is unknown. But Roosevelt’s distaste for unsporting hunting tactics famously inspired the invention of the teddy bear.
Summarizes Wikipedia, “The name originated from an incident on a bear hunting trip in Mississippi in November 1902, to which Roosevelt was invited by Mississippi Governor Andrew H. Longino. There were several other hunters competing, and most of them had already killed an animal. A suite of Roosevelt’s attendants, led by Holt Collier, cornered, clubbed, and tied an American black bear to a willow tree after a long exhausting chase with hounds. They called Roosevelt to the site and suggested that he should shoot it. He refused to shoot the bear himself, deeming this unsportsmanlike, but instructed that the bear be killed to put it out of its misery, and it became the topic of a political cartoon by Clifford Berryman in The Washington Post on November 16, 1902. Morris Michtom saw the drawing of Roosevelt and was inspired to create a new toy. He created a little stuffed bear cub and put it in his shop window with a sign that read ‘Teddy’s bear,’ after sending a bear to Roosevelt and receiving permission to use his name.”