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Md. bear hunt makes sense, but is opposed

February 15, 2004|by Bill Anderson

You never know what you might hear on the radio.

Last week, I was traveling in the car and listening to a Baltimore radio talk show. The guest was Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich to talk about bear hunting season.

Bear season became a hot topic after the Department of Natural Resources recently announced Maryland would conduct a limited bear season in the fall of 2004.

What made the interview even more interesting was the commercial that was aired before Ehrlich came on. It was about groups lining up to propose bear season.

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According to the ad, the season isn't needed. In fact, if you live in bear county (which is just about anywhere now), you shouldn't mind having to deal with minor inconveniences, like bears eating your pet's food or having to remove your bird feeders.

I remember thinking that the only thing missing was Yogi, Boo-Boo and pic-a-nic baskets.

To his credit, Ehrlich didn't back down from the decision to hold bear season because he bases his wildlife management policies on "science-based decisions."

Wow! In nearly 30 years of observing the wildlife policy making in Maryland and the surrounding states, this rates as one of the most courageous moves made by a governor - ranking with the decision to put a moratorium on striped bass fishing in the 1980s.

The exact details of the 2004 bear season are not completely clear, but the general proposal is to do a limited permit hunt - one week in October, and one week in December. The total limit will be held to 30 bears.

The area open would be western Allegany and Garrett Counties. The kill total during the season would be tightly controlled by closing the season when 30 bears have been checked in at designated checking stations.

This is a workable system, which is being used by other states for managing more than one species.

Taking 30 bears out of the overall population with a hunting season will not make a big difference to the state's overall population. The latest estimates have around 500 bears in the state, including 400 in the fall hunting area.

It can be assumed there are at least 100 breeding-age females in the overall population (a low number), which is why the population will continue to grow after 30 bears of both sexes are removed. Bears often have twin cubs, and three cubs are not that unusual.

The other major cause of mortality in 2004 will be road kills. Last year, 27 bears were killed by cars in Maryland. So the total 2004 mortality from hunting, road kills, poaching and other causes could be up to 75 bears.

The net will be a larger bear population in 2005.

The Maryland DNR is proceeding like the 2004 bear season is a done deal. I hope they are right, but I have some doubts.

Several groups, including The Fund for Animals, are actively opposing the season. Legal attempts to prevent it are almost certain.

Under Maryland law, the DNR has the authority to hold a bear season without the approval of the legislature and it has the support of Ehrlich. But don't underestimate the ability of an activist judge to put a halt to the season.

If you are looking for good news, you only have to look to New Jersey, which held its first modern-day bear season last December. The hunt resulted in 328 bears harvested out of an estimated statewide population of 3,000. The hunt was heavily opposed by anti-hunting groups, but proceeded as planned and generally was considered to be a success.

A limited bear hunt in Western Maryland makes sense for many reasons. The DNR and Ehrlich have shown political courage and leadership in proposing this hunt.

It will be interesting to see if the wildlife professionals are allowed to do the work they are hired to do - manage the state's black bear population.




Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached by e-mail at bandersn@weekend-sportsman.com

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