AUGUSTA, Maine -- Dr. Ken Elowe, Director of the Bureau of Resource Management for Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and Colonel Tom Santaguida, Chief of the Maine Warden Service, earlier today discussed the impacts of Question 2 on Maine's bear population.
Elowe discussed the department's assessment of the how quickly the bear population would expand if question 2 passes. Elowe based the assessment on data collected through Maine's intensive 30-year radio telemetry bear study, coupled with the loss of non resident hunters and dwindling success rates for hunters. He told the audience that with a reduction in the bear kill from 3,900 to 360, we can expect a population increase of 14% annually, and that means thin five years we will increase the population by 50% to around 35,000 bears.
That increase is in line with states where similar referendums have passed. Massachusetts' bear population has doubled in ten years, and in Colorado, the population has increased by up to 27% in a nine year period from 1993-2002, but stabilized after four years of severe drought conditions.
Colonel Tom Santaguida followed and discussed Warden Service Calls for service concerning bears so far in 2004. Last year, the Maine Warden Service responded to 620 calls concerning bears, including 283 calls that came to Game Wardens homes after hours or on days off.
Santaguida also detailed how wardens would handle nuisance bears. Technical advice will be given on how to control nuisance bears, and Game Wardens will respond when public safety is an issue. He also stated that if there is a no bear-hunting scenario that causes an increase in bear populations resulting in public safety incidents, there will be no choice but to direct game wardens to destroy those bears causing safety hazards to the public. He said that with the potential increase in public safety-related bear complaints and limited resources and warden personnel, he did not see any other viable option.
That is in line with what has happened in other states. For instance, since the referendum has passed in Colorado, lethal removal of bears has increased nearly five-fold, from an average of 33 bears in 1989-1991 to an average of 158 bears in 2000-2002. In Oregon in 1999, 269 bears involved in nuisance activities were destroyed while the Oregon hunter harvest averaged only 890 from 1998-2000.
The text that follows are the written remarks of Ken Elowe first, followed by those of Tom Santaguida.
If this referendum passes, it will have a profound effect on the bear population.
In order to meet a publicly derived goal of keeping the bear population stable, hunters need to remove 3,500-4,000 bears annually from our current population of 23,000.
While trapping averages only 3% of the bear kill each year, the use of bait and dogs combine for approximately 90% of the harvest.
If this ban passes, surveys show that 90% of non-resident hunters will go elsewhere,
For the past ten years in Maine, one out of every four bear hunters are successful over the course of a hunting season using these methods.
In states where this referendum has passed, hunter success has plummeted to 3-6% using such methods as still hunting and stalking
If Maine loses 90% of their non-resident hunters, and the success rates drop to 6%, the bear harvest drops to about 360 bears killed by hunters per year.
Our research over the past 30 years have shown that with a reduction in the bear kill from 3,900 to 360, we can expect a population increase of 14% annually, and that means thin five years we will increase the population by 50% to around 35,000 bears. That is a level much higher than Maine's citizens want or will tolerate.
That's our model. But lets look at reality. In states where this referendum has passed and they monitor their population using radio collars, populations have seen similar rapid growth.
For instance, Colorado has seen their population increase by nearly 30% in just nine years
Closer to home and thus a better example, Massachusetts has seen their population double in just ten years.
And what happens when populations grow at such a rapid pace, unchecked by hunting pressure?
Bears go where they don't belong.
And with that I would like to turn this over to the head of the Maine Warden Service, Colonel Tom Santaguida.
Remarks from Colonel Thomas Santaguida:
Warden Service routinely documents all calls for service including bear complaints. Over the past few years, wardens have received an average of 291 nuisance bear complaints and/or calls for service regarding bears per year. Knowing that citizens representing both sides of the bear question would be requesting data, last spring I directed a process to ensure we would have summary information available to citizens for whatever purpose it might serve.
During 2004 there were a documented 620 calls that came into the Warden Service concerning bears. Some of these calls included attacks on livestock such as a bear killing pigs in Atkinson, bears killing a cow in Detroit, in South Berwick, two sheep were killed by a bear, and chickens killed in Limerick, and a goat attack in gray. We also investigated a bear attack on an 18 year old in Standish.
Over 200 of the bear calls that were received came to warden's homes after work hours or on their days off. 337 incidents occurred as apart of wardens carrying out their duties routinely during the workday again making the total this year, through October 13th at 620.
Please be aware that those are 620 calls concerning bears that come into the Warden Service alone. We do not nor do we have the resources or ability to track calls that come into other law enforcement agencies such as state police, sheriff's offices, or local police departments. For instance, we did not record the bear that was shot and killed by South Portland police after it was chased through the back yards in suburban South Portland as a nuisance complaint. There are likely hundreds of other complaints that we do not receive or learn about.
A couple of days ago I received a message to call the former Deputy Chief Game Warden from New Jersey Greg Huljack. He was the second in command of the New Jersey Conservation Law Enforcement agency until he retired four years ago. He was interested in the bear question and situation up here in Maine.
As we talked, he explained to me that New Jersey has a burgeoning bear population. New Jersey's bear population grew and grew until the residents couldn't take it any more, and just had their first hunt in 30 years because the population grew to a level that the public would not tolerate.
The last year Deputy Chief Huljack worked New Jersey game wardens were inundated with nuisance bear calls, and there, they were prioritized. Greg's explained that during his last year, they had 37, what he termed "home invasions" by bears in addition to other complaints. These weren't camps, and not cabins out in the woods or in the Allagash, but suburban New Jersey homes that bears had broken into and entered in search of food. In one instance a mother came home after picking up her children from pre-school to find a large bear in her home destroying her kitchen and causing her to flee.
So what will happen in Maine if the bear population expands to a point where bears are increasingly causing problems with humans? Department policy states that wardens get involved to give technical advice on how to control nuisance bears and become involved in a response when public safety is at issue. If there is a no bear-hunting scenario that causes an increase in bear populations resulting in public safety incidents I will have no choice but to direct wardens to destroy those bears causing safety hazards for the public. With a potential increase in public safety related bear complaints and limited resources and warden personnel I don't see any other viable option. It's my responsibility to do whatever I can to ensure public safety during wildlife-human interaction.
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