AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- With all the debate in Augusta over spending and health insurance, the state may be about to get a fight over bear hunting. A group called Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting will kick off its petition drive Tuesday night to force a statewide vote on the most common forms of bear hunting. The group, which is supported by the Humane Society of the United States, wants to ban bear baiting, trapping and hunting bear with dogs.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife says those methods account for 90 percent or more of the bears that are killed each year.
DIFW Commissioner Chandler Woodcock today officially opposed the referendum, and announced that Governor LePage is against it as well. Woodcock made his announcement as outdoor groups joined the department and even labor unions to oppose the referendum. They say Maine has a large and healthy bear population, and needs an effective hunt each year to manage it.A biologist for the department told reporters that 80% of the bears harvested each year are shot while feeding on bait. The rest are caught with dogs or traps, and only a few taken by traditional still hunting---what referendum supporters refer to as "fair chase. The outdoor groups and DIFW say there are about 500 of what they call "bear-human conflicts" in the state each year, and argue that number will grow without adequate hunting to control the population. They say eliminating the most popular forms of hunting would also have a big economic impact in rural parts of Maine.
Referendum opponents say all of Maine's candidates for Governor and for the Second District Congressional seat agree with them, and oppose a referendum. We were not able to contact leaders of Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting. That group is scheduled to launch its petition drive campaign Tuesday night.