The spring bear hunt

Maine has not had a spring bear hunt for many years. Although a reinstitution of a spring bear hunt in the Pine Tree State has been talked about on and off as a way of dealing with our ever-increasing population of bears, many stakeholders — including bear guides and outfitters — have opposed the spring hunt for a host of reasons. This spring there was a serious legislative plan to bring back the spring bear hunt. As usual, the house was divided over this one. The Legislature eventually killed the proposal after the IF&W Legislative Committee, after considerable testimony and debate, sent the bill out with an ought-not-to-pass vote.

Something needs to be done to properly manage Maine’s bear population. A few years back, Maine’s game management plan acknowledged the problem:

“In order to maintain healthy bear populations in suitable habitats, and to minimize conflicts in more urban areas, the growth rate of Maine’s bear population needs to slow down. From 2005 to 2016, the number of hunters and subsequent harvest of black bears declined below 4,000 annually; and during that time, Maine’ bear population grew by 2-4 percent each year (Linden 2016). To slow population growth and range expansion, harvests need to increase to 15 percent of the population (McLaughlin 1998), which would require hunter participation, success or opportunity to expand above current levels. Rates of hunter participation are currently too low to slow bear population growth within the existing season framework.”

There has been a successful spring bear hunt in neighboring New Brunswick for many years. In 1999, Ontario closed down its spring bear hunt in response to public pressure from anti-hunting groups, which argued that a spring hunt would prompt a kill-off of bear cubs. Bear biologists and bear guides argued that bear/car collisions and male bears kill more cubs than hunters, who generally don’t take cubs. (Boar bears kill cubs because nature will see to it that cub-less sows come back into estrus.)

Three years ago, Ontario reinstituted its spring bear hunt as a way to mitigate crop damage and bear-car collisions that resulted from an excessive bear population.

Ray Dillon, a veteran New Brunswick bear guide and outfitter, says that an attempt by the Ontario anti-hunting element to shut down New Brunswick’s spring bear hunt a few years ago was thwarted. Dillon, his counterparts and state bear biologists convinced voters to preserve the spring hunt by simply presenting citizens with dispassionate facts and findings of wildlife science. Dillon says that a spring bear hunt in Maine makes a lot of sense given our bear numbers and the growing state bear population.

Maine bear biologists are advocating for a spring bear hunt as a way to better manage our state bear population. To shy away from this sensible wildlife methodology simply out of political concerns would be demonstrating a lack of moral courage and represent a compromising rebuke of state wildlife biologists, the professionals we depend upon to scientifically manage our wildlife.

V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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