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Bills Would Restrict Anti-Hunting Citizen Initiatives in Maine

A.J. Higgins
Gina Stoll, of Portland, testifies before the Legislature's Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee against a pair of bills that would would create constitutional amendments to exclude wildlife issues from citizen initiatives.

AUGUSTA, Maine - Members of the state's hunting community are backing two proposed constitutional amendments aimed at stopping out-of-state animal rights groups from bringing anti-hunting measures to the ballot box in Maine. Supporters say the bills come in response to two failed initiatives attempted in the past 10 years that would have restricted bear hunting.

The two proposed constitutional amendments presented to the Legislature's Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee would essentially ask voters to decide whether they believe that the citizen initiative process should be used to decide wildlife issues at the ballot box.

Republican Rep. Stephen Wood of Greene is one of the sponsors. "I bring forth this bill today in an effort to protect our hunting and fishing rights from outside the state of Maine special interest groups," Woods said.

The two resolutions could have easily have been titled "An act to keep the Humane Society of the United States from influencing hunting in Maine," as the sponsors and their supporters made clear their intent. The Humane Society is a Washington-based group that spent about $2 million on a citizen initiative to ban bear baiting. And that failed effort was the second in 10 years.

Rep. Michelle Dunphy is an Old Town Democrat who is sponsoring the second bill, which she says is aimed at blocking interference by the Humane Society. She rejects claims by opponents that the approach is undemocratic.

"Swooping in behind that with a vertical proposal from a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that keeps Maine from managing wildlife at all, let alone scientifically, is what's really anti-democratic," Dunphy said. "That's the question I want to ask Maine voters: 'Haven't you had enough?' "

At the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, Executive Director David Trahan says his members are tired of being demonized by animal rights activists, and he urged the committee to weigh a simple question. "Do you allow the animal rights movement to continue their assault through the referendum process and, as a result, continue their battle to discredit our wildlife managers responsible for protecting our wildlife and the public trust?" Trahan said.

"We have no intention of stepping aside and not having our voices heard on behalf of the protection of our wildlife," said Gina Stoll, of Portland. Stoll joined other opponents to the two proposed constitutional amendments. They argue that what hunters in Maine really want to do is muzzle the democratic process.

And Don Loprieno, of Bristol, said the opposition is not focused on the right to hunt. "Since Mainers already have that right, no one can give it to them - what's threatened instead is the right to vote," Loprieno said.

Katie Hansberry, Maine state director for the Humane Society of the United States, says the two proposals are clearly an attempt to interfere with the initiative process. "These bills are deliberate attempts to stop Mainers from being able to bring forth citizen petitions on important wildlife protection issues, and are a clear attack on the Question 1 ballot initiative seeking to end bear baiting, hunting and trapping, which 250,00 Mainers voted in favor of."

As constitutional amendments, the resolutions would need two-thirds support in the Maine House and Senate before they could be presented to the voters for a final decision.