Guest Post: Maine Bear Hunting Referendum – A Call to Action

Editor's Note: David Trahan is the Executive Director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine and formerly served in the state legislature for 12 years.

This fall Maine hunters will face a referendum vote that could ban hunting black bears with hounds, hunting them over bait, and trapping. In part, we're facing the vote because of a decision I made last year.

In May of 2013, five Humane Society of the United States employees, including their Washington D.C. liaison, summoned me and Don Kliener, head of the Maine Professional Guides Association, to an impromptu meeting just prior to a public hearing on legislation LD 1474. It was a bill to ban hounding and trapping of bears in Maine.

They delivered this ultimatum: “We have $3 million, and polling data that says we can win a bear referendum in Maine. If the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine will support LD 1474, HSUS will not submit a referendum to ban trapping and hounding. If the Alliance doesn’t support LD 1474, HSUS will add baiting to our bill, and go to referendum, and Mainers will likely lose baiting, hounding, and trapping.”

They added this threat: “In addition to taking bear hunting, if we win, we will stay in Maine and take away all the other hunting opportunities you care about.”

As the leader of the largest sportsmen organization in our state (10,000 members), I was faced with a horrible decision: Trust the HSUS extortionists and take their deal, or roll the dice and hope we could raise enough money to at least have a chance to win a referendum vote.

The decision was easy. My response to HSUS was: “Take a hike!”

Here's a little backstory on who we're dealing with...

In October 1990, Wayne Pacelle, current HSUS Director and then director of the Fund for Animals (the nation’s most vocal anti-hunting organization) stated, “We are going to use the ballot box and the democratic process to stop all hunting in the United States…we will take it species by species until all hunting is stopped in California. Then we will take it state by state.”

Pacelle has reigned supreme in the radical anti-hunting community since 1990. He took the Fund for Animals and consolidated it with the HSUS to create an international organization that raises $160 million a year with a staff of more than 600 employees, including about 30 lawyers. To put this number into context, Wayne Pacelle’s annual pay and benefit package alone is more than the entire operating budget of our sportsman's alliance. We're in an epic David vs. Goliath battle–and we need help.

Why should sportsmen across the country care?

Up until the turn of the century this nation’s wildlife, including bears, deer, and ducks were hunted, poached, and exploited to the point of near extinction. There were no hunting licenses, laws, or regulations to sustainably manage wild animals, no game wardens or biologists to monitor and recommend seasons or bag limits.

But in 1937 President Roosevelt signed into law the most important and effective conservation law in U.S. history: the Pittman-Robertson Act. Since the PRA act was implemented, it has provided more than $2 billion to states in a 3-1 ratio to match $500 million in state hunting license fees, which has been used to build wildlife agencies to protect our resources across the nation.

PRA and local wildlife agencies have partnered to purchase and protect critical habitat for migratory waterfowl, endangered species like the eagle, and countless other programs designed to guarantee animal populations are healthy and thriving. The PRA is credited with the national recovery of the wood duck, black bear, and whitetail deer, not to mention countless endangered species that would likely have perished decades ago without these excise taxes paid by sportsmen.

By declaring war on hunting as a management tool, the Humane Society of the United States has also threatened to destroy the very foundation of the greatest conservation movement ever assembled. If they achieve their overall goal of ending hunting, they will have also succeeded in destroying the PRA. Without the billions in PRA excise tax fees on hunting equipment paid by sportsmen and women and local hunter licenses, there will be no funds to protect wildlife, buy and maintain wildlife habitat, or protect endangered species.

When the HSUS arrogantly stated, “If we win, we will stay in Maine and take away all the other hunting opportunities you care about,” they exposed their true agenda and declared war on our nation’s wildlife and the PRA. I could have accepted the HSUS deal and we might not be facing a referendum in Maine, but I knew they would take the easy victory here and use their $3 million to take away some form of hunting from our friends in another state.

We will fight them here in Maine so hopefully you won't have to in your own state. More importantly, we will fight them to preserve the foundation of conservation known as the Pittman-Robertson Act. We need your help. Please consider joining the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine or sending us a donation. The money will be used exclusively for the bear campaign. Every dollar enables us to counter television ads that HSUS will broadcast in September and October. Check us out here.