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Possible bear hunt discussed

January 24, 2002

Possible bear hunt discussed



By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Robert O'Brien told Maryland lawmakers Wednesday that a bear has broken into his Garrett County, Md., home four times.

A limited bear hunt, he argued, would help control the bear population that has grown out of control in Western Maryland.

"Which of my four children have to die or get hurt?" he asked members of the House Environmental Matters Committee.

But the committee also heard Wednesday from residents who oppose bear hunting in Maryland. Most live in the Baltimore-Washington area.

"Nobody in this room can understand until you've looked out your window and seen a bear looking back at you," O'Brien said.

House leaders, including House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, support legislation to require an annual bear hunt.

The state has banned bear hunting for 48 years, although the Department of Natural Resources has the authority to authorize a bear season.

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Del. George Edwards, R-Allegany/Garrett, showed the committee a map of the state's bear habitats and said if the state doesn't allow hunting it should relocate the bear to those areas where the hunting opponents live.

Under Edwards' proposal, a lottery system would be used to determine which hunters could go after bears - a practice banned since 1949. There currently are bear hunting seasons in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

"If you don't want to allow a limited lottery hunt then trap 'em and move 'em," Edwards said.

Animal rights supporters in the audience responded with claps and cheers.

"I think that's fine," one shouted.

Bear hunting opponents argued that it won't solve the problem because it doesn't target those animals that have become a nuisance.

There are ways to control bear without killing them, they said.

So far those alternatives have failed, Edwards said. Although the state has estimated the bear population at 300 to 400, others think there are many more, he said.

Maryland has a bear stamp program that raises money to help reimburse farmers for crop damage due to bear.

Director of Wildlife and Heritage Services Paul Peditto admitted that the state has done a poor job of publicizing the program. The fund only had enough money to pay farmers for 60 percent of their losses, he said.

Peditto said his office also has a relatively new bear policy that he hopes will help.

The law allows people to kill a bear if they feel they are in danger, which two people have done this year.

His office also has relocated four nuisance bears.

"We take them to the Pennsylvania line and face them in that direction," he said.

Committee Chairman Del. John A. Hurson, D-Montgomery, said he believes the committee will be able to agree on bear hunting legislation this year along with legislation to expand the deer hunting season.

Del. George W. Owings III, D-Prince George's/Calvert, wants to extend the 13-day hunting season to 21 days, three of which would be Sundays.

Sunday hunting has been off limits in Maryland since colonial times.

Norm Phelps of Funkstown, the only Washington County resident to testify at Wednesday's hearing, said he's opposed to both bills.

Sunday hunting is a desecration to many religious residents of rural Maryland, said Phelps, who works for the Fund for Animals.

Owings testified that his measure is necessary to manage the white-tailed deer population, estimated at 250,000. Last year, more than 4,300 automobile accidents involving deer fatalities were reported.

Deer hunting doesn't prevent deer-car collisions, as some of the bill's supporters suggested, Phelps said. In fact, it may even encourage accidents, which is why a Hagerstown auto body shop advertises a discount during deer season, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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