Maine’s management plan for black bears is a proven success. Voters may kill it anyway.
Wayne Bosowicz remembers when black bears were so disdained in Maine that the state paid him to hunt down the “nuisance animals” with his hounds. “Bears were considered trash,” says Bosowicz, 71, a registered Maine master guide. “For a long time, there was even a bounty on them.”
Bosowicz and Maine’s bruins have come a long way since then. Interest in bear hunting in Maine has increased to the point where they are now a valued big-game animal, and the population has grown from 18,000 in 1990 to about 32,000 today, making it the largest in the East. Maine is widely considered to have one of the nation’s best management programs, offering three carefully regulated hunting seasons and a special trapping season, and Bosowicz’s Foggy Mountain Guide Service has become one of the most successful bear outfitters in the country. Upwards of 11,000 hunters pursue bears in Maine every year, more than half of them nonresidents. A 2004 study found that bear hunting contributes about $60 million annually to the state economy and supports more than 900 jobs.
Nevertheless, Maine’s bear hunting heritage as we know it could soon come crashing down.
In November, Mainers will vote on a referendum that, if passed, would ban baiting, hounding, and trapping bears in the state. The initiative has been funded almost entirely by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), whose leader has promised “to use the ballot box and the democratic process to stop all hunting.” A similar HSUS-led referendum was defeated in Maine in 2004, although by only 6 percentage points.