From now until November, you’ll hear more than you want to hear about bears, as proponents and opponents debate the merits of a referendum that would ban three of Maine’s hunting methods.
First things first: Earlier this week, I learned that organizers of the signature drive that circulated petitions that would put the issue in front of voters have announced that they’ll deliver those signatures to Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap on Feb. 3.
Seeing as how organizers of an identical referendum drive to ban the use of bait, hounds and bear trapping gathered nearly twice as many signatures as they needed back in 2004, that wasn’t a surprise.
Another item that crossed my desk was.
A guide from southern Maine sent me a link to a New York document that was eye-opening.
The document, which you can find at dec.ny.gov/docs/wildlife_pdf/bbplandraft2014.pdf, is a draft of the black bear management plan that is being developed to govern New York State’s management efforts from 2014 through 2024.
The interesting thing: While we in Maine are considering banning the use of bait, traps and hounds by bear hunters, New York biologists are proposing that they study the potential benefits of allowing one or more of the methods.
The problem: New York’s bear population is growing beyond acceptable levels in some areas. For the record, so is the bear population in Maine.
“Close regulation of alternative harvesting techniques, such as the use of bait, pursuit with hounds, trapping or spring hunts could provide additional management tools and would likely generate substantial interest in New York bear hunting among resident and nonresident hunters,” the draft report concludes. “Though not currently lawful in New York, these techniques are used successfully in many areas throughout North America and should be assessed for management value in New York.”
According to the draft report, the estimated minimum number of bears in New York has grown from 3,000 in the early 1980s to 5,000 today. Estimates of the actual population of bears in New York ranges from 6,000 to 8,000.
Maine biologists say there are likely 23,000 black bears roaming our state.
A problem, the New York team of biologists reports, is that there aren’t enough hunters who specifically focus on black bears when they’re in the woods. Instead, bears have long been shot by hunters who are specifically targeting deer, but run across a bear.
In Maine, hunters purchase an actual bear permit, but while biologists hope that hunters remove around 4,000 bears a year in order to keep the population at limits that were set by a public working group, that total has not been reached in recent years. In 2012, just 3,127 bears were shot by hunters in Maine.
All of which brings up another sensitive point that is already being made (or refuted) in online forums and newspaper comments sections.
Some have taken to warning those who would vote to ban the three bear-hunting methods in Maine that doing so will lead to some pretty gruesome stuff.
The more alarmist among them have suggested that bears will attack people, eat their babies and terrorize us all.
That’s just hyperbole, and has no place in the upcoming debate.
Odds are, bears aren’t going to eat you. Odds are, they’re not going to eat your baby. Even if the population grows, those scenarios aren’t likely to happen.
But it seems logical that your likelihood of having a bear visit your bird feeder would increase if we had more bears on the landscape.
New York does chart the number of “Class 1” conflicts that residents have with bears — defined as incidents during which bears engage in behaviors that “are clearly dangerous to humans, pets or livestock.”
And among the roughly 1,000 bear complaints that New York game managers respond to annually, between 50 and 90 typically involve those “Class 1” bears.
Fact is, bears are wild animals. And if you come between them and their cubs (or a free lunch), you really don’t know what they’ll do. Eat you? Doubt it. Make you wet your pants? Perhaps.
I’ll say it again: This promises to be an interesting few months.