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A harvest that bears repeating

October 26, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

Who did I like going into the big shootout this past weekend?

I liked "da bears."

Since this was written before the games actually began, I am not in a position to say who won in the state's first organized black bear hunt, but I almost always take the side of animals over humans because, with the exception of my dog, Jake Biscuit, they usually have purer motives.

And when I say "organized," I am not kidding. Only a few hunters were allowed to head off into the woods loaded for bear, and they were selected from a list of applicants by state lottery.

That would be my luck. Finally hit a scratch-off, and instead of cash I win the right to go out and arm-wrestle Yogi.

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I did e-mail the Department of Natural Resources and ask if I could enter the lottery and then, if I won, sell my hunting rights on eBay. But the state officials rejected my appeal on the basis that they "couldn't tell whether I was kidding or not." Me? Kid? About money?

If I had wanted, I could have applied for the right to cover the bear hunt as a serious journalist. There was an application form for that, too, of course. The press release said, "Given the security concerns surrounding the hunt and the issue, we are asking reporters that plan to cover the hunt to be credentialed."

Security concerns. Whose security, the bears'? But then, the hunt was not terribly popular with animal rights groups, so there was always the risk that someone from PETA would show up and chain herself to a bear. Or give them guns, under the constitutional provision to keep and arm bears.

Security at a firearms hunt has to be a nightmare, though. What, you set up a metal detector and then if the buzzer doesn't go off you yank that person out of line and take him down to the station for questioning?

The DNR helpfully scheduled a "pre-hunt meeting" during which it was to distribute hunting permits and press kits. A lot of the media were from the cities, so I guess they needed an 8x10 glossy photo with the caption, "This is a bear."

The press was advised of the necessity to wear fluorescent orange, which pretty much killed my idea of going into the field with a fur coat and a big novelty bear head. I know this, though. If I'm a bear, I'm going out to maul the nearest highway construction worker and strip him of his blaze orange vest.

Then you'd look like a hunter or a journalist, who was mandated to wear:

"A cap of solid daylight fluorescent orange color;

"A vest, jacket, or jacket containing back and front panels of at least 250 square inches of solid fluorescent orange color or;

"An outer garment of camouflage fluorescent orange worn above the waist which contains at least 50 percent fluorescent orange color."

Wonderful. There will be so much orange in Allegany County, Cumberland will think it's getting a Hooters. You go out in the morning for a nice sunrise nature walk, and you don't know if you're in the forest or The Home Depot.

Of course, a media building was set up, so when the first dead bear is brought back to be checked, the event can be fully documented. According to the DNR, when the Unluckiest Bear in Western Maryland is hauled up to the shed, the hunter "will drive their vehicle past the media building and into a docking area, where staff will take blood, hair and tissue samples from the bear."

Of all the indignity. Not only are you shot, every last television camera in Maryland is there to get you on film - and then they take a blood test. Of course, by that time, who cares if you test positive for campers? I guess they need blood and tissue samples to prove that you are, indeed, a bear. Or at least a healthy bear. Formerly healthy, I mean, before the, uh, unpleasantness.

The state says 30 bears will be "harvested," at which point the hunt will be called off. So somewhere out there is a 31st bear praying that the state can count animals better than it counts for its budget.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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