Activists Upset Over Maine Bear Ad, But State Says Ad Is Legal

Supporters of a ballot proposal that would ban bear trapping, baiting and hunting with dogs were upset over an ad that began running in September featuring a state biologist opposing the initiative.

The ad features Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife bear biologist Jennifer Vashon. Although Vashon is not in uniform, she identifies herself as a state bear biologist with the IFW and goes on to voice her opposition to the bill. The ad goes like this,

“I’m Jennifer Vashon, the state’s bear biologist. Maine’s bear population is healthy and growing. Today we have over 23,000 black bears – one of the largest bear populations in the country. Our bear hunt is highly regulated and closely monitored by wildlife experts. But Question 2 would ban the most effective methods we use to control bears and minimize conflicts with people.” After Vashon finishes speaking, the announcer states, “That’s why Maine’s Fish and Wildlife Department strongly opposes Question 2. Vote NO on 2.”

Those supporting the ballot proposal immediately voiced their objections. Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting’s Bob Fisk complained that,

It’s a problem here in our minds. (The department) crossed the line a long time ago and because nobody is making notice of this, they continue to do it. They are not supposed to play that type of role in a referendum campaign.

The IFW responded, however, with a press release to the effect that there was nothing improper about Vashon’s appearance in the ad.

Martin stated that the department’s involvement in the bear referendum is based on science, wildlife management, and the relevant facts of the issue. Department personnel are allowed to provide scientific, historic and background information to the public, and respond to questions from the media or citizens about the issues raised in the referendum by any individual organization on any side of the referendum debate.

The advertisement features Department of Inland Fisheries Bear Biologist Jennifer Vashon providing scientific facts about Maine’s bear population. Vashon’s statements are substantiated by research that appears on the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife website at .

Vashon appeared on her own time in the advertisement. The advertisements were produced and paid for by Maine’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Council, a coalition consisting of 11,000 individual donors and 600 organizations and businesses opposed to the November 2 referendum question. Vashon’s appearance is legal under state law that allows public employees to disseminate information on matters such as citizen initiatives.

The Department opposes question 2, due to the fact that passage of the referendum would severely impact the department’s ability to properly control Maine’s thriving bear population. Each year, 3,500 – 4,000 bears need to be removed from the population to keep it at 23,000, the largest bear population east of the Mississippi River and one of the largest in the country.

In a press release criticizing the ad, Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting said that Vashon had made contradictory claims earlier this year in an e-mail obtained through the state’s freedom of information act,

Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting pointed to statements made by Ms. Vashon early last year that entirely contradicts recent statements. In an email obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Vashon, in correspondence with the Safari Club International, wrote, “We will not get a population explosion, especially in the span of a few years, as bears do not have the capacity to reproduce that quickly. She continued, “Many have said that our nuisance complaints will go through the roof, but nuisance bear activity depends more on year-to-year variations in natural food crops and less on the total number of bears in an area, especially since most bears in Maine live in areas with low population densities.”

Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting charges that the DIF&W is working illegally with the opponents of Question 2 by spending state resources on a referendum campaign, a violation of state and federal law.


IFW Commissioner States Advertisements Featuring Department Expert Are Legal. Press Release, September 15, 2004.

State Employees Engaging In Blatant Political Activities Should Be Taken Off The Air Immediately. Press Release, Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting, September 15, 2004.

DIFW biologist urges ‘no’ vote. Bangor Daily News, September 15, 2004.

Maine Governor Comes Out Against Anti-Bear Hunting Initiative

In a talk to sportsmen, Maine Gov. John Baldacci expressed his opposition to a proposed initiative that would ban bear baiting, hunting bear with dogs, and bear trapping in that state.

With the help of the Humane Society of the United States and other animal rights groups, Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting has been working to place such an initiative on the ballot in Maine. They have collected more than 100,000 signatures, virtually guaranteeing that it will be on the November 2004 ballot unless the state legislature adopts the initiative on its own first.

Baldacci, speaking at a meeting of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said,

Groups, funded by out-of-state organizations committed to ending hunting, are backing a referendum that would make it illegal to hunt bear with dogs, to hunt bears with bait or to trap bears. They believe they know better than the state’s biologist and animal management professionals how Maine should manage our wildlife resources. They have gotten out early to tell their story to Maine voters. We need to tell our story.

HSUS maintains that baiting, trapping and hunting with dogs are not necessary. In a press release on the ballot initiative, it said,

The recreational hounding, baiting and trapping of bears is unnecessary. Most bear hunting states do not allow these unsporting methods, yet hunters in the states are able to hunt bears without them. Pennsylvania, for example, prohibits baiting, hounding and trapping bears, yet hunters there kill more than 2,000 black bears annually.

Recently, Massachusetts, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington approved similar ballot measures to ban cruel bear hunting practices. Statistics from these states prove that inhumane practices are not necessary to control bear populations, as hunters are able to kill the same number of bears without them.

The full text of the ballot initiative can be read here.


Baldacci backs vote against bear-bait ban. Misty Edgecomb, Bangor Daily News, December 6, 2003.

Baldacci opposes bear referendum Says current hunting laws benefit biologists. Dwayne Rioux, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, December 6, 2003.

Maine: Initiative to Ban the Baiting, Hounding, and Trapping of Bears. Press Release, Humane Society of the United States, 2003.