To hunt or not to hunt? Key ballot measures on wildlife explained. (+video)
Here's a rundown of how five states handled hunting and wildlife issues Tuesday – including bear baiting in Maine and gray wolves in Michigan.
Tuesday's midterm elections that handed big gains to the Republican Party also featured several ballot measures dealing with hunting and key wildlife species in states ranging from Alaska to Maine.
The ballot measures were significant not only because of the ramifications they'll have for animal populations and hunting practices, but also because they attracted a large chunk of outside money. Here is a rundown of the measures that five states considered.
The most controversial ballot measure in Maine this election was arguably a referendum to ban certain types of bear baiting. The measure, which did not pass Tuesday, would have banned the use of bait, dogs, and traps in bear hunting.
The referendum came a decade after Maine voters did not pass a similar referendum that also caused controversy. Both times, the referendums were rejected by a margin of 53 to 47 percent. Maine is the only state in America that allows all three types of bear-hunting practices, according to the Portland Press Herald.
The referendum's supporters argue the use of these hunting practices are inhumane and say they are unnecessary in controlling the population of black bears in the state. Opponents believe the black bear population would grow too large and endanger the public should current hunting practices change.
Outside money fueled the state's renewed debate over bear hunting. Of $2 million spent in support of the referendum, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) gave 97 percent of that dollar figure, while just 3 percent came from in-state donors, the Press Herald reports. And the other side spent $2.8 million – 61 percent from outside Maine and 39 percent from in-state donors.
Also in Maine, voters Tuesday rejected a proposal to open the popular tourist town of Bar Harbor to deer hunting for the first time since the 1930s, according to the Mount Desert Islander. The proposal would have allowed for one or more seasons of deer hunting in areas outside Bar Harbor's downtown.
Michigan voters rejected two laws that allowed for the hunting of gray wolves. A 2012 law removed the wolf from the state endangered species list and reclassified it as a game species. And a 2013 law gave the state's Natural Resources Commission the ability to decide whether wolves should be hunted, according to the Associated Press.
While Tuesday's vote overturned both laws, a separate law passed this summer and set to take effect next year says the Natural Resources Commission can decide game species and determine hunting seasons, according to MLive.
This means the hunting of gray wolves in Michigan will now be decided in court, with hunting opponents saying they will sue lawmakers over a law that essentially negates the election's results, writes John Barnes for MLive.
As with bear hunting in Maine, HSUS was the largest financial donor in opposing the hunt.
The Michigan gray wolf population has grown to about 638, up from six in the 1970s. The improved number provided impetus for the laws allowing the hunt, as hunt proponents argued the wolves were a threat to the safety of people and livestock. However, an MLive investigation last year held that the reasons for allowing the hunt were based in part on lies and distortions.
A ballot measure that would prohibit mining projects in Alaska's Bristol Bay if harmful to wild salmon passed by a margin of about 65 to 35 percent. The measure provides an added layer of scrutiny for the proposed Pebble mine, located near several Bristol Bay salmon streams, according to Alaska Dispatch News.
If built, the mine would be one of the largest in the world and would extract the stores of gold, copper, and molybdenum. But critics worry the mine would pollute Bristol Bay and endanger the salmon population there. The bay is home to the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery.
Republican Dan Sullivan, who as of press time held a lead in Alaska's Senate race, supports the Pebble Project, while his opponent, Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, has opposed it, according to ThinkProgress.
Voters in Alabama and Mississippi decided Tuesday to amend their state constitutions to ensure the so-called right to hunt, protecting state residents' interests in hunting and fishing game animals. Though there was little evidence that hunting was endangered in the two states, gun-rights supporters including the National Rifle Association have urged people to take action to preserve hunting interests or risk becoming entangled in a national movement that would seek to curtail such activities, according to The New York Times.