Are Sportsmen the Ones Being Baited?
By Stu Bristol

If I were a political cartoonist, this months question would be in the form of a cartoon depicting SAM's Executive Director riding a horse down a country lane waving a lantern and yelling, "The Anti's are Coming! The Anti's are Coming!" Instead, I ask the simple question, "Are Sportsmen the ones being baited, by the bear baiting issue?

Shortly after beginning my writing career, back in Vermont in the late 1960s, TV Guide Critic Cleveland Amory founded an animal rights organization, the Fund For Animals. One of the first tactics he employed was to aggravate the hunting fraternity.

To do so, according to Amory, would cause them (the hunters) to spend huge amounts of their cash on defending their sport in print and other media. Because the sportsmen were so willing to give his cause so much ink,(at sportsman expense) his group had to lay out very little cash to promote themselves.

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I asked for and got the financial statements for Amory's Group and the figures were there to clearly point out the success of his technique. Dealing with him in person, he often joked at how gullible the hunters were in this area, especially the NRA.

Across the board, other animal rights organizations have followed suit, with similar results. One of the most predictable traits of rod and gun and watchdog groups for shooting sports is that they need a bad guy to point at. It began with the NRA slogan "When they Pry it From My Cold Dead Hand."

Organizations such as SAM need organizations like PETA to maintain membership levels. When there is no perceived enemy, membership numbers fall dramatically. Look at recent history in Maine. The moose referendum figures show that sportsmen outspent the anti's ten to one and the similar figures can be seen with the reverse land posting issue. Like it or not, sportsmen and their advocate watchdogs are being played for a sucker when it comes to defending what we do in the name of sport.

So, should sportsmen take the "bait" on the bear-baiting issue or find another way to justify bear hunting over bait? And, who or what entity should be standing out front in this battle?

Wouldn't it seem that the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife should be the point man so to speak? After all, it is their scientists that formulated the bait-baiting season. The Department has the Constitutional charge to manage the bear population. Spokespersons for hunters are by far the most vulnerable on these types of issues and will always be forced to taking a position of defending or justifying the reasons for a bear hunt over bait. That puts us at a disadvantage.

We can see other issues on the horizon such as coyote snaring, fenced hunts and yes, even the practice of shooting stocked pheasants. When sportsmen take the lead, the anti's consider it a victory regardless of the outcome.

Our Department has the legal backing and the scientific ammunition to spearhead our defense. For any just cause the Attorney General's Office can be asked by IF&W to step in and make a judgment as to the legal matters.

Over the past two and a half decades that I have lived in Maine, I have yet to see the Department step up to the microphone first. Most often the Department position is stated outside the presence of public hearings, and too often the Department's position continues to be one of a passive nature.

Instead of SAM and other advocate groups butting heads with the anti's (at our expense) perhaps the Department should stand up with sound scientific and legal grounds for using hunting as a management tool and bear-baiting as a legitimate form of hunting.

Too bad we lost Craig McLaughlin to a western state. Craig was perhaps the best bear biologist I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and he had all the necessary answers to combat the issue of hunting bears over bait. Perhaps we should hire Craig to come back to bail our department out on this issue?

I asked the question, gave some of my input, now what's your viewpoint on the bear-baiting issue? Should we rally the troops and storm the Legislature to combat the anti's or should we let our Department fight for what they put in place as a sound wildlife management practice?

Stu Bristol is a freelance writer, living in Lyman. His weekly and monthly columns have been published nationwide for over 30 years. For more Stu Bristol articles visit www.stubristol.com.


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