IF&W spending taxpayer money to advance political agenda against Fair Bear Hunting Initiative, covering up the extent of involvement from voters
(Sept. 30, 2014) –The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is illegally using taxpayer money to conduct a coordinated political campaign in opposition to Question 1, according to a lawsuit filed in Portland. The lawsuit seeks to force IF&W to disclose government records concerning its political activities, which the department has hidden from voters for many months.
Katie Hansberry, campaign director for Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, said: “The Maine IF&W is using staff time, equipment, and agency dollars to influence a statewide election, and this should concern every Maine resident who cares about good government and the proper conduct of elections without heavy-handed intervention from state government. The agency has also been withholding public records that are likely to show an even more widespread use of agency resources in politics.”
The IF&W is coordinating with opponents of Question 1 and out-of-state trophy hunters who have set up the most extreme and unsportsmanlike bear killing program in the nation. Officials with this executive agency are falsely holding themselves up as impartial experts, but they’re behaving as anything but that. The agency, which receives substantial funding from hunting licenses, is pressing forward with an aggressive political agenda, designed to inflate bear populations through widespread supplemental feeding of bears to offer guaranteed kill opportunities to out-of-state bear hunters.
The Maine IF&W is an outlier among states managing bear hunting, allowing bear baiters to dump garbage in the woods, and is the only state wildlife agency to allow bear trapping. Despite discouraging the feeding of bears, deer and other animals, the Maine IF&W allows seven million pounds of garbage to be dumped into the woods a year. Studies in Maine show bears are reproducing more frequently, as baiting activity has become so commercialized and gotten out of control.
As described in the lawsuit, IF&W is providing the public with a steady diet of personal attacks on the proponents of Question 1 and misleading rhetoric, delivered by uniformed IF&W employees in partisan television commercials opposing the measure. IF&W’s campaign against Question 1 closely tracks the political talking points of the No campaign. It also tries to frighten Mainers into believing Question 1 will somehow threaten public safety, ignoring the fact that Question 1 contains express exemptions for the protection of property, public safety and research. The state’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review analyzed the economic effect of ending bear baiting and determined it will have “no net revenue impact” on state government, contradicting statements from IF&W personnel.
At the same time it is waging this unprecedented political campaign, the agency has failed to disclose internal agency records concerning IF&W improper campaign activities to the public. Proponents of Question 1 requested these records four months ago under state law, but the agency has released only a tiny fraction of the records related to its campaign activities.
Daryl DeJoy, executive director of the Wildlife Alliance of Maine, added: “The trickle of information we’ve received from the state so far clearly shows our department acting on behalf of organizations who have a vested financial interest in seeing the ballot initiative defeated. Every Maine resident should expect honest dealings from government agencies, rather than hyperbole, political campaigning and slow-walking the release of documents they are legally obligated to disclose to the public.”
Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting is a coalition of state and national groups, environmental and animal organizations, animal shelters and rescue groups, hunters, veterinarians, businesses, community and faith leaders and independent biologists.
• Bear baiting, hounding and trapping are cruel and unsporting, and Maine is the only state to still allow all three extreme methods. Hunters are not allowed to bait, hound, or trap deer or moose, and shouldn’t be allowed to do it for bears. It is particularly cruel to trap a bear in a snare and it’s unfair to shoot a bear out of a tree or over a dump site. Hunting is a Maine tradition – cruelty is not.
• Colorado, Oregon and Washington have effectively managed their bear populations after banning all of these practices – with their bear population remaining stable and no significant increase in bear-human conflicts. What’s more, the number of bear hunting licenses doubled or tripled in these states, engaging many more hunters in fair-chase bear hunts and generating more revenue. Responsible and humane bear management works.
• Every responsible wildlife agency says “Don’t feed the bears.” Baiting is not a solution to bear-human conflicts – it's a major source of the problem. Dumping seven million pounds of pizza, jelly donuts, and rotting food into the Maine woods each year gets bears used to human food sources and grows their population. That’s why it’s no surprise that as baiting has increased in Maine, so has the bear population – by 30 percent in just the last decade alone. As other states have shown, baiting is precisely the worst way to manage bears if you want to minimize conflicts with people.
• The Maine IF&W is an outlier on the issue of bear management, allowing bear baiters to dump garbage in the Maine woods and the only state wildlife agency in the country to allow bear trapping. It’s not an impartial expert agency – it’s a government bureaucracy with a political agenda that caters to the whims of the guides and outfitters who want to offer guaranteed kills. The IF&W should serve the people of Maine, not use our tax dollars to tell us how to vote and support its political agenda. This overreaching involvement by bureaucrats in state elections undermines your democratic rights.
Maine Bear Hunting Reform Narrowly Rejected by Voters
Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting expressed disappointment about the election results on Question 1, but thanked more than a quarter million Mainers who voted to end bear baiting, hounding, and trapping.
"We are grateful to so many Maine voters for supporting this proposed reform, and we look forward to working with them and with ‘no’ and non-voters to outlaw the practices of bear hounding and trapping, because we believe there’s substantial agreement on that issue."