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Ehrlich rejects call to drop bear hunt

April 07, 2004|by DAVID DISHNEAU

Gov. Robert Ehrlich stuck to his guns Tuesday, defending the state's first bear hunt in 51 years after three Maryland congressman asked him to drop the plan.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell, responding to a letter from Democratic Reps. Chris Van Hollen, Benjamin L. Cardin and Elijah E. Cummings, said the Republican administration's decision to schedule a black-bear hunt this fall in far western Maryland was based on "sound science."

"Science dictates that there is a need for management of the black bear population of Maryland," Fawell said. He said science also indicates that hunting "is an appropriate avenue for population control."

In their March 31 letter to Ehrlich and Department of Natural Resources Secretary C. Ronald Franks, the congressmen expressed "grave concern" about the hunt, which would allow the killing of 30 bears in Garrett and western Allegany counties out of a statewide population the DNR estimates at more than 400.

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The congressmen said the state's bear population, which has rebounded from an estimated 12 in 1956, is fragile. Furthermore, they said, the DNR "does not have the biological data necessary to justify the establishment of a bear hunting season."

They recommended increased funding for non-lethal measures to reduce human-bear conflicts, including conditioning of nuisance bears, public education about living with bears and crop-damage compensation for farmers.

Paul Peditto, director of the DNR's Wildlife and Heritage Service, said the agency aims to maintain a healthy bear population using modern conservation principles that include preserving bear habitat. He said those techniques have helped Maryland's bear population recover from the effects of unregulated hunting and wanton disregard for habitat conservation in the early 1900s.

"There is no evidence that anyone can present that taking 30 bears through hunting next fall will wipe out this bear population," Peditto said.

The hunt would occur during two six-day periods, Oct. 25-30, and Dec. 6-11. It would end when the agency's harvest goal is reached.

The Fund for Animals, a wildlife protection group that opposes a hunt, applauded the congressmen's stand.

"Killing bears for trophies or rugs will provide absolutely no relief to the Maryland farmers and citizens who want real solutions to coexist with wildlife," said Michael Markarian, the group's president.

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