- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Opponents of a proposed ban on three bear-hunting methods that failed at the polls in Maine say the result protects the state’s hunting heritage and its economic interests.

Mainers rejected a ballot initiative Tuesday that would have banned hunting bears with bait, dogs and traps. Baiting - typically with sugary food like doughnuts - is by far the most common method of bear hunting in the state, making up about four-fifths of the hunt.

Hunters, guides and outfitters said the decision preserves a centuries-old tradition of hunting bears in the state. Some also cited a statistic from a recent state study that said Maine’s bear-hunting industry generates more than $52 million in annual economic activity and employs 565 people.

Oxbow Lodge owner Chad Deabay said the defeat of the referendum means his Oxbow big game outfitting business, which was founded in 1903, still has a future. He said the owners and employees of dozens of Maine businesses that rely on the bear hunt feel the same way.

“We’re happy to see that tradition continue,” Deabay said. “Without the bear hunt, these days, we don’t have a business.”

The ban effort failed by about 40,000 votes, or about 7 percentage points, according to unofficial totals. It gained little support in inland Maine, where most bears live and hunting is a way of life for many residents. Much of the support for the referendum was centered along the state’s central and southern coast, which the state Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife describes as bears’ “peripheral range.”

Proponents of the referendum pushed for the ban because they believe the hunting methods are cruel. They also said bait habituates bears to humans, which can lead to dangerous encounters. The wildlife department countered that the methods are necessary to control the state’s bear population, which has grown by 30 percent in 10 years.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said the measure’s failure was a relief for many rural Maine residents.

“Up in western, eastern and northern Maine, where there are really very few jobs, it wasn’t just about preserving jobs. It was about keeping their homes and their businesses,” he said. “For a lot of people it was very personal.”

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