Be careful which ‘facts’ you believe in bear referendum

Over the coming months, those who want to ban three methods of bear hunting that are currently allowed in Maine will try their best to get their message out.

So, too, will those who prefer the status quo, and want to continue to allow bear trapping, as well as hunting with hounds and over bait.

Representatives on each side of the battle will also try to make the public believe their version of the “facts.”

It’s up to you, as potential voters, to decide which “facts” are actually factual, and which aren’t.

After being trapped by Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists, a 246-pound female black bear looks toward human visitors in 2010 in Township 36. (BDN photo by Bridget Brown)

After being trapped by Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists, a 246-pound female black bear looks toward human visitors in 2010 in Township 36. (BDN photo by Bridget Brown)

To that end, I’ve provided a couple of links here. First, here’s the Humane Society of the United States fact sheet on bear baiting. Next, here’s a myth-vs.-fact sheet being circulated by Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, which is pushing the referendum effort, which is supported by the HSUS.

Finally, here’s the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s own bear hunting fact sheet.

You’re welcome to read all three, and I encourage you to do so.

I’ll undoubtedly be criticized for advising readers to absorb as much information as they can on the issue that promises to dominate outdoor policy discussions for the next nine months.

Ten years ago, when an identical measure was on the ballot, I was ostracized by some on both sides. To some, I was a neanderthal who wanted to slaughter defenseless bears. To others, I was a traitor, because (gulp!) I actually interviewed people who sought to end bear trapping, hounding and baiting.

One real “fact” I’ve been able to identify, both then and now: The bear-referendum “debate” is not a debate at all. Instead, it’s more of a name-calling competition. The other side (whichever side that may be) is wrong. Dead wrong. And many won’t even listen to a word this evil “other side” is saying.

That’s too bad. Many on both sides of the issue are nice people. They’re the kind of people you’d like to have as neighbors. They’re the kind you’d want to be coaching your kids.

We disagree with each other. And we do so, in many cases, disagreeably.

As we move forward toward voting day, it’s important for Mainers to study this issue as well as they can.

And it’s important for them to know that all facts aren’t equal.

Earlier this week, a guide who takes sports into the woods to bear hunt contacted me. He had found another “fact sheet” that he said could further muddy future debate.

After looking at the internet post, I agreed.

It seems that there’s another form of “bear baiting” that’s practiced in South Carolina. Others call it “bear baying.”

Either way, it’s a practice that I think most Mainers would oppose: Bear baying (or baiting, to some down south) is a competition that pits captive bears against packs of dogs. South Carolina’s own Department of Natural Resources has taken a position against the activity.

The Maine guide’s concern: Voters seeking information about bear baiting may inadvertently end up on the HSUS’s page that condemns South Carolina’s bear-baiting/baying, and think that Mainers are holding the same type of competitions.

Or, even worse, he’s concerned that people may vote on the Maine referendum while thinking they’re voting against practices that don’t even take place here.

When I did a Google search on “bear-baiting,” the first page of results contained plenty of sites that are describing an activity that’s far closer to the South Carolina model than it is the Maine reality.

So what can Mainers do?

Study the issue. Read. Talk to people. Double-check what you’re being told.

Then, come November, walk to the ballot box with a clear understanding of the issue and vote your conscience.

In the meantime, both sides might be well-served to sit down and calmly discuss the issue with (double-gulp!) someone who holds a different point of view. Compare “facts.” Leave the adjectives at the door.

Treat your opponents like people you’d like to have as neighbors.

Who knows? They might do the same.

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.