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Bill: Just grim, and bear with it

February 10, 2005|by TIM ROWLAND

With all due respect to the issues of slot machines and malpractice reform, clearly the bill in Annapolis this year that is most crucial to all Marylanders is the proposal from Del. George Edwards that would give each county in Maryland its own bear.

Baltimore City would appear to be exempt, possibly because, with the arrival of Sammy Sosa, it already has a Cub.

There is plenty of legal precedent for requiring bearship dating back to the Supreme Court's 1965 "one man, one bear" decision. And I'm pretty sure the Second Amendment of the Constitution says something to the effect that the right to keep bears shall not be infringed.

Edwards is miffed that so many suburban lawmakers took offense at Western Maryland's recent bear hunt, which many people in Allegany County viewed as necessary to stem a growing menace.

Basically he wants to explode the bear myth so prevalent in today's pop culture, which celebrates them in the form of Smokey Bear, Pooh Bear, teddy bears, Care Bears, et al, where they appear as either harmless goofs or protectors of the human race.

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In reality, there are very few documented cases of a bear in overalls putting out forest fires with a spade. The truth of the matter is that a bear is much more likely to push the message, "You, only you, can prevent undisturbed trash cans."

Edwards' working theory is that bears are only cute from a distance, and a closer acquaintance to the species would milk the city folk of their sympathy. That's a valuable lesson, I suppose, but giving a bear 50 bucks and a bus ticket to Rockville probably isn't the best way to get it across.

As community activists, bears aren't worth much. First of all, they sleep half the year, so like at the inauguration when they would ideally be out chanting and carrying picket signs, they'll be dead asleep deep in the stacks of the Annapolis Public Library, or someplace.

And all the bears I've stumbled across have been very poor organizers. They tend to work on their own, so if you're looking for them to form some kind of self-help group like Ursus Anonymous or the Salmon Keepers, forget it. At best it would be a lot of laughs at the Scout meeting: "Kids, I'd like to introduce you to your new den mother"

Bears care about one thing: Grub. Or grubs. In fact, all those woodsmen manuals designed to prevent bear attacks basically try to teach you how to keep the bear from thinking that you're food. They discourage you from running, since an article of a bear's diet would be likely to do the same. Instead, you're supposed to stand at your full height, wave your arms and blow a whistle - things that, statistically speaking, a rabbit or a blackberry are unlikely to do.

So a bear is much more likely to hang out at the landfill or the Dumpster behind a fast-food restaurant and participate in very few public speaking engagements to raise bear awareness.

But the real problem is that if we start passing laws to send our critters to the rest of the state, the rest of the state is liable to pass "revenge legislation" to send theirs here. And who wants the Eastern Shore sending us a bushel of 3-inch mosquitoes? We don't want Salisbury sending us their muskrats, Ocean City sending us their jellyfish or Silver Spring sending us their investment bankers.

Fortunately, this isn't likely to happen, since Edwards' bear bill has a long way to go and isn't given much success of passage. Still, it's worth keeping an eye on. I mean, who are they going to call to testify at the committee hearing, Goldilocks? And you know how legislation goes. A simple bill to put a bear in every county could end up with riders authorizing tax credits for zookeepers and a $500 million appropriation for bear anti-smoking programs.

Besides, sending the bears to the city, in my view, wouldn't punish the people as much as the bears. One day they're out splashing in a mountain stream and the next they're trying to figure out how to use a Metro farecard. They'd face a murderous commute to the park, be confronted with ever-increasing taxes and feel the social pressure to rapidly advance their careers. That would be bad news, bears.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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