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Judge Dismisses Bear Hunting Referendum Suit

PORTLAND, Maine - There's a final conclusion to a case brought by the Humane Society of the United States against the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife over the 2014 bear hunting referendum.

The animal rights group had sought an injunction in the lead-up to the ballot question, which asked if voters wanted to ban the baiting, hounding, and trapping of bears, saying the state department had overstepped its bounds when its biologists appeared in uniform urging Mainers to vote against the initiative.

Maine Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler's March 31 ruling dismisses the entire lawsuit on the grounds that it's now a moot issue.

Neither side thinks the debate is really over, but James Cote, who managed the No On One Campaign, says the decision sets a good precedent going forward, that IF&W's exercising its opinion does not constitute "political activity, but, rather, it is the statutory responsibility of the department to be able to provide this type of information."

But Robert Fisk, of the group Maine Friends of Animals, says the statute is the problem; he says the rules are written in such a way that officials have too much influence over what should be the people's decision.
"And those definitely need to be tightened up because it was not right, it was not fair, that the department expended so much time energy and money to defeat the referendum," Fisk says.

HSUS could now appeal to the Maine law court. Also, the group has said it plans to bring the referendum question again.