Moose referendum was hard-fought battle

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 The 1983 referendum initiated by a group trying to stop Maine’s new moose hunting season was contentious and hard-fought. Here’s a look back at it in a Sun Journal news story by reporter Joe O’Connor.

Moose-kill Issue Draws Foes Face to Face, October 6, 1983.

“Is the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife trying to balance its budget at the expense of the moose?” – Roger Curran.

“Is hunting a proper game-management tool in Maine, for moose or any other species?” – George Smith

Answering yes to their own questions, two men representing the pro and con sides of the Maine moose hunt squared off in a debate before the Androscoggin County Women’s Republican Club in Auburn Wednesday night.

While agreeing on some factual points, Curran, representing Save Maine’s Only Official State Animal (SMOOSA) and Smith, a former President of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM), took almost completely opposite interpretations of those facts.

Speaking first, Current related the history of the Maine moose hunt, from its being outlawed in 1935, to the veto by Governor James B. Longley of a hunting bill passed by the Legislature, to Governor Joseph E. Brennan’s signing the law allowing an experimental hunt in 1980 and the regular hunt that began last year.

Curran said studies of moose killed during the 1980 hunt showed no signs of the brain worm that hunting advocates said had infested an overpopulated herd. He noted that the kill for that first hunt was 683 moose on 700 permits, a 91-percent success ratio. By contrast, he said, the kill ratio for the deer hunt is 12 to 15 percent.

Curran said the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIFW) admitted in 1981 that the herd was not threatened by overpopulation, but Commissioner Glen Manuel said the hunt should be allowed because it would provide “a good quality of recreation which is in strong demand.”

The real reason the DIFW is supporting the hunt, Curran said, is the $400,000 it receives in fees from moose hunters. “For a Department that is already in financial distress that must be very attractive,” he said.

Curran also denied SAM allegations that stopping the moose hunt is the first step in a campaign to ban all hunting. “Unlike Commissioner Manuel, we have no intention of challenging the outcome of the election in the courts” he said, adding that with 233,000 licensed deer hunters in the state, it would be a waste of time for SMOOSA to try to outlaw that even if it wanted to.

“The issue is simple,” Curran said. “It is the moose in Maine, and shall they be killed for fun and profit?”

Smith, on the other hand, contended that hunting “is a heritage I have as a Mainer.”

“I frankly see no difference between hunting moose and hunting deer, duck, grouse – they’re game animals and they’re there to be managed and, if possible, hunted.”

Smith noted that the hunting zone is limited to an area roughly north of Milo, and said the law allows the commissioner of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to call off the hunt if he feels the herd is endangered.

Smith also dismissed the argument that moose are so tame that there is no sport in hunting them. “It’s a matter of degree,” he said. “There are some moose that were taken very easily, and others that were a challenge.”

He added that the moose hunt is profitable not only DIFW, but also for storekeepers in the northern hunting zone and for butchers, taxidermists, guides, and others. And he said as a result of the latest moose hunt, “Four hundred thousand pounds of meat went onto the tables of mostly Maine people.”

The former SAM president said modern forestry practices have led to a sharp growth of the moose herd. Even if all hunters were successful, he said, they would only take an estimated 6 percent of the herd – while estimates are that the herd is growing by more than 20 percent a year.

Smith also noted that the initiative for the hunt came from DIFW. “The hunters did not decide that we could hunt (moose), the biologists did,” he said.

Another factor to be considered, Smith said, is the increase in auto-moose accidents due to the increase in herd size. And, while admitting that a continued increase in the herd size would not cause the animals to starve in three or five years, he said such an increase could be expected eventually.

State officials endorsing the moose hunt include former Congressman David Emery, U.S. Rep. John J. McKernan, and House Speaker John L. Martin, Smith said, and organizations allied with SAM include the Natural Resources Council, National Wildlife Federation, and National Wildlife Society.

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