In November, Maine voters handily ejected a referendum that would have banned bear baiting, trapping and hunting bears with hounds. Activists are now turning their attention to legislation to make changes to bear hunting in Maine that may have wider support.
Apparently the lesson activists took from the failure of the referendum is that it was overly broad. Exit polls showed that many people who supported a ban on trapping of bears, for example, voted against the referendum because they nonetheless support bear baiting.
A number of bills being proposed by Maine’s legislature will narrow that focus to banning the use of leg-hold traps to trap bears. According to the Environmental News Network, Maine is the only state in the country that still allows leg-hold trapping of bears.
One the other hand, these bills might not be quite what activists expect. Green Party Rep. John Seder, for example, is working on a compromise bill with Democrat Rep. Thomas Watson that would ban leg-hold traps, but expand night and Sunday hunting — something that hunting groups in Maine want.
The Humane Society of the United States generous support for the referendum is also drawing legislative reaction. At least one proposed bill would limit the amount of money groups in Maine could accept from out-of-state groups such as HSUS.
Another bill would make it harder to put referendums on the ballot by requiring groups to obtain a certain level of signatures from every county rather in addition to a certain number statewide. The referendum to ban bear baiting was put on the ballot by signatures that were disproportionately collected in urban rather than rural areas of Maine.
Bear hunting debate shifts to outlawing traps. Environmental News Network, January 28, 2005.