I am proud to be an endorsing veterinarian for Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting — a group working in the state to put a citizen’s initiative on the 2014 ballot. This would align Maine with much of the rest of the country by enacting long-overdue protections for the bear population while preserving traditional Maine hunting.

The coalition includes the Wildlife Alliance of Maine, Maine animal shelters, veterinarians, The Humane Society of the United States, responsible hunters and other Maine people. This group has banded together to ensure that traditional values of fair chase are restored to bear hunting by ending the inhumane and unsporting practices used in Maine today.

The practices that Maine sanctions to kill bears — specifically hounding, baiting and trapping — are barbaric and unsporting and deserve no place in Maine’s future. Maine is the only state in the country that allows all three of these particularly cruel and unsportsmanlike methods of killing bears — practices that are proven not to be necessary for bear management.

The practice of hounding involves a pack of GPS-collared dogs chasing a bear until exhausted. It is then treed or cornered. The bear is then shot at close range. Dogs used for hounding can be injured or killed during the chase and in confrontations with the bear. These dogs are frequently regarded as little more than hunting equipment, and many times animal shelters bear the burden of caring for lost dogs and unwanted hounds that may be abandoned at the end of the hunting season.

Baiting is a relatively new phenomenon that started in the early 1980s when unsportsmanlike individuals starting shooting bears who had congregated at garbage dumps. Baiting involves luring bears to an unnatural diet of rotting meat, pizza and doughnuts. The bear is shot while its head is buried in the piles of bait. This irresponsible practice encourages bears to seek out human food sources and contributes to them losing their natural wariness of humans.

Bear trapping is cruel. Maine is the only state left in the country that still allows it for sport. Trappers typically bait the bears with an unnatural diet of grease and pastries to attract them to a particular spot in the woods. There is no fair chase involved. The trapped bear is then shot at close range. A bear’s instinct is to break free from these foot snare traps, which can lead to extensive injuries to the animals. Trappers have reported bears chewing off their own paws to free themselves.

As a veterinarian, I have treated dogs that were attacked by bears while used for hunting. I see no reason to allow this unnecessary bear and dog suffering to continue in Maine, simply for the sake of recreation. Other major bear hunting states such as Montana, Pennsylvania, New York, Washington and Oregon manage their bear populations without resorting to such inhumane practices.

It is time to rid our state of these cruel and inhumane practices. I hope you will support Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting by signing the petition. Please visit fairbearhunt.com to find out where you can sign and to learn more about how you can help.

Maria G. Salvaggio, VMD, is a veterinarian from Searsmont.