Maine people love wildlife and the outdoors. We appreciate wildlife in different ways, of course — from moose and bird watching to photography to fishing and hunting. Maine wildlife management enjoys a reputation for being scientifically sound and accommodating the broadest possible array of interests and views, including those of hunters, whose conservation credentials are strong and whose roots continue to run deep in our state’s culture.
Hunters, after all, were the first among America’s conservationists; just think back to Teddy Roosevelt, a passionate hunter who set the modern standard for conservation. In fact, Roosevelt developed his deep love for the outdoors in part through several hunting and hiking trips he took in Maine shortly after his graduation from college. As many of us know, Maine has the kind of natural resources that can inspire a person to spend a lifetime enjoying the outdoors.
Here in Maine, wildlife management through science and broad-based public participation is not just a goal; it’s part of the social contract. However, approval of Ballot Question 1 — which would outlaw traditional methods of bear hunting and take away the best tools we have for bear management — would be a wholesale breach of our social contract.
It’s pretty simple: Question 1 is dangerous because it polarizes people who should all be working together to maintain healthy wildlife populations and restore unhealthy ones. That’s the real challenge. The black bears that Question 1 purports to save are doing just fine, thanks to successful population management through the very techniques Question 1 would outlaw. Yet many of Maine’s other wildlife populations need our help, and we’ll only be able to help if we all — hunters and non-hunters alike — pull together. Question 1, if approved, would undermine our ability to speak with one voice for wildlife conservation.
There are so many challenges facing our state that are far greater than how some of us choose to hunt bears. While Maine’s bears thrive, the state’s moose are suffering from tick infestations resulting from warmer winter temperatures. Our foremost wildlife habitat — our forest — is under siege from insect species such as the spruce budworm and the non-native wooly adelgid. Tackling these issues, and others such as the impacts of climate change, habitat fragmentation and balancing development and conservation in Maine are all enormous challenges, challenges we’ll only meet in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust.
Question 1’s backers will argue that the ballot measure has nothing to do with conservation — that bear hunting techniques are solely an ethical matter. But that’s just plain naive; wildlife conservation doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It requires a broad base of motivated people who are willing to accept land, water, and species management measures that are science-based and respectful of their traditions and culture. In considering Question 1, we must ask ourselves: does it makes sense for one group of Mainers to preempt the personal ethical choice of another group, especially when doing so risks alienating a key constituency for conservation?
So let’s reject this ill-conceived effort from afar to divide us by pre-empting what should remain a personal choice about bear hunting. Let’s not approve a measure that dictates wildlife management by sentiment rather than science. Instead, let’s continue to have Maine people decide how they personally want to appreciate our state’s wildlife.
Maine’s wildlife — and other natural resources — need the broadest possible base of public support in order to maintain our outdoor traditions and the economic opportunity they create. That won’t be possible if we allow Maine’s wildlife management to become ensnared in a culture war that is not of our own making.
Lucas St. Clair is the president of Eliottsville Plantation, Inc. a not-for-profit foundation that manages roughly 100,000 acres of Maine woods and wilderness. He is a hunter, fly fishing guide and outdoor enthusiast.