Saturday, December 7, 2013
WHEN MAINE BECAME a state in 1820, it decided, like most other states in the union, to conduct its elections in November. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but that time was 100 years before the state created deer and bear hunting seasons that coincide with the election season.
Mixing gun policy, animal welfare, out-of-state hunters and voting demographics is a contentious brew guaranteed to inflame the passion of Mainers across the state. No wonder that we are once again going to struggle with the bear-baiting issue.
I spent more than a decade as a professional guide working out of tent camps in northern Maine during October and November.
Although my viewpoint is certainly colored by that experience, I can understand the point of view of those who wish to change how we hunt bear.
To the nonhunter, practices such as bear baiting seem unfair and unnecessary. Tempting an animal to come to something it likes to eat and killing it may be as old as humanity, but Americans love the notion of fairness. Somehow, ambushing an animal at its supper table just does not seem right. It may very well not be. If, however, we are going to make this decision, we ought to be clear about its implications.
Outlawing bear hunting by using bait and dogs will destroy bear hunting as an occupation and business in Maine.
Much has been said concerning fair hunting practices. For most people, hunting bear fairly means doing so as one would hunt deer, stalking through the forest or waiting on the side of a field or cutting.
A bear, however, is a different creature from a deer, with far differing abilities, skills and tastes. The only way that hunters shoot bear outside of baiting or with dogs is by luck.
In 10 years of professional hunting, working in camps that had eight to 15 hunters every week in remote areas with no other hunters to contend with, I never saw a single hunter shoot a bear except by accident. Many tried to stalk them, some were sure they could track them and others thought they could predict their movements.
In the end, however, the only bear that got shot were those that wandered into the sights of a deer hunter. A few woodsman more skilled than me might be able to track and kill a bear, but certainly there aren't many.
No one is going to pay the money that bear hunters pay to come to Maine on the remote chance that they might shoot a bear when so many other states and Canadian provinces can provide far more successful bear hunting for the same money. Small towns all across northern Maine will see reduced income, and many guides will be out of business.
Capitalism destroys as many endeavors as it creates, and this could well be one of those occupations that need to wither on the vine.
What is galling about the whole issue is not that Maine people would have conflicting opinions about what has become a controversial topic, but the hypocrisy with which the discussion is being conducted.
At the same time as we debate the cruelty and unfairness of bear hunting, the state licenses and promotes the practice of using bait to trap lobsters, hauling the poor creatures out of their environment to slowly asphyxiate in refrigerators and then, just before they die, boiling them alive.
We eat eggs that come from hens who live their lives in 16-by-10-inch cages; we consume North Atlantic fish stocks whose numbers are near collapse; and we eat cattle whose whole existence is spent in feed pens.
All these things we do without ever giving a thought to baiting or cruelty. We consume these animals without once considering the morality of how we treat them or their future.
I like lobster, eggs and haddock as much as the next person, but the world might be a better place if we confine our killing to plants and vegetables. That revolution in diet, however, seems unlikely.
If we are going to judge what constitutes "fairness" in killing animals or what exactly "cruelty" means in the context of hunting, shouldn't we carefully examine the animal treatment we condone in the interests of our own civilized palate?
If we are going to get rid of bear hunting, let's not do it under the guise of "fairness" or stopping cruelty to animals.
Let's hear why it is that bears deserve more consideration and protection than all other creatures great and small that enter our food chain.
Alan Haley is an economics teacher and former hunting guide who lives in Skowhegan. He can be reached at email@example.com.