While Maryland puzzles over a prospective black bear hunting season for the first time since 1953, a look at Pennsylvania's bear situation may be in order.
Pennsylvania's trap and transfer program of the late 1970s is, after all, somewhat responsible for the return of black bear in western Maryland, DNR biologists say.
The three-day season in Pennsylvania ended Wednesday, and statistics on this year's harvest are not yet complete. But a look at the past few seasons may give an indication of a successful management program based on sport hunting -- even if the number of bears in Pennsylvania far outnumbers Maryland's estimated population of less than 200.
The harvest this year was estimated to be about 1,500 bears or about 20 percent of Pennsylvania's resident population. Over the past five years, the average harvest has been 1,589, with a high of 2,213 taken in 1989.
In the southwest and south-central sections of the state, those which might correspond with Maryland's western four counties, excellent ratings were received in Pennsylvania's preseason survey.
Somerset County wildlife officer Cliff Guindon said the Allegheny and Laurel ridges in his area were holding strong numbers of bears.
In Cambria County, officer Doug Carney said: "Black bears are everywhere. This should be a record year for this county."
In Indiana County, there have been reliable sightings of bruins in the 400- to 500-pound range, and sightings in Armstrong County increased this year.
In south-central counties of Huntingdon, Mifflin and Snyder, bear populations are established and growing but receive little hunting pressure.
If there is a trend developing in Pennsylvania, according to state Game Commission, it is that bears are no longer always found in traditional, deep wood habitat but are adjusting to exist more closely with human populations.
Maryland biologists say the same thing is happening in Western Maryland.