Supporters of a ballot proposal that would ban bear trapping, baiting and hunting with dogs were upset over an ad that began running in September featuring a state biologist opposing the initiative.
The ad features Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife bear biologist Jennifer Vashon. Although Vashon is not in uniform, she identifies herself as a state bear biologist with the IFW and goes on to voice her opposition to the bill. The ad goes like this,
“I’m Jennifer Vashon, the state’s bear biologist. Maine’s bear population is healthy and growing. Today we have over 23,000 black bears – one of the largest bear populations in the country. Our bear hunt is highly regulated and closely monitored by wildlife experts. But Question 2 would ban the most effective methods we use to control bears and minimize conflicts with people.” After Vashon finishes speaking, the announcer states, “That’s why Maine’s Fish and Wildlife Department strongly opposes Question 2. Vote NO on 2.”
Those supporting the ballot proposal immediately voiced their objections. Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting’s Bob Fisk complained that,
It’s a problem here in our minds. (The department) crossed the line a long time ago and because nobody is making notice of this, they continue to do it. They are not supposed to play that type of role in a referendum campaign.
The IFW responded, however, with a press release to the effect that there was nothing improper about Vashon’s appearance in the ad.
Martin stated that the department’s involvement in the bear referendum is based on science, wildlife management, and the relevant facts of the issue. Department personnel are allowed to provide scientific, historic and background information to the public, and respond to questions from the media or citizens about the issues raised in the referendum by any individual organization on any side of the referendum debate.
The advertisement features Department of Inland Fisheries Bear Biologist Jennifer Vashon providing scientific facts about Maine’s bear population. Vashon’s statements are substantiated by research that appears on the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife website at www.mefishwildlife.com .
Vashon appeared on her own time in the advertisement. The advertisements were produced and paid for by Maine’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Council, a coalition consisting of 11,000 individual donors and 600 organizations and businesses opposed to the November 2 referendum question. Vashon’s appearance is legal under state law that allows public employees to disseminate information on matters such as citizen initiatives.
The Department opposes question 2, due to the fact that passage of the referendum would severely impact the department’s ability to properly control Maine’s thriving bear population. Each year, 3,500 – 4,000 bears need to be removed from the population to keep it at 23,000, the largest bear population east of the Mississippi River and one of the largest in the country.
In a press release criticizing the ad, Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting said that Vashon had made contradictory claims earlier this year in an e-mail obtained through the state’s freedom of information act,
Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting pointed to statements made by Ms. Vashon early last year that entirely contradicts recent statements. In an email obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Vashon, in correspondence with the Safari Club International, wrote, Â“We will not get a population explosion, especially in the span of a few years, as bears do not have the capacity to reproduce that quickly. She continued, “Many have said that our nuisance complaints will go through the roof, but nuisance bear activity depends more on year-to-year variations in natural food crops and less on the total number of bears in an area, especially since most bears in Maine live in areas with low population densities.”
Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting charges that the DIF&W is working illegally with the opponents of Question 2 by spending state resources on a referendum campaign, a violation of state and federal law.
IFW Commissioner States Advertisements Featuring Department Expert Are Legal. Press Release, September 15, 2004.
State Employees Engaging In Blatant Political Activities Should Be Taken Off The Air Immediately. Press Release, Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting, September 15, 2004.
DIFW biologist urges ‘no’ vote. Bangor Daily News, September 15, 2004.