Black bears get too familiar Hearings to start on limited hunt in Western Maryland

November 02, 1995|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,SUN STAFF

McHENRY -- Edward and Freda Quintero left Arbutus in southwestern Baltimore County five years ago for a new home on a secluded, 1-acre lot on a wooded Garrett County mountain a few miles east of Deep Creek Lake.

The Quinteros settled in to enjoy nature. They walked in the woods. They fed birds. They lounged on their back deck.

No more. Wandering black bears -- the subject of what promises to be a packed, at times emotional public meeting in Accident tonight -- have forced the Quinteros and many others to take their bird feeders in at night, leave gas grills unused and keep their garbage cans in the basement.

"We're overrun with bears," said Mrs. Quintero, who retired from her secretarial job five years ago because of health concerns. "I've had them looking in my kitchen window. I've had them sitting on my deck. They've gotten way out of hand. We used to walk through the woods, but not anymore. We live in fear of bears."

No, the Quinteros are not another case of city folks not adapting to the country.

On the contrary. From Gorman in southern Garrett County to Keysers Ridge in the north, talk to just about anybody and they'll have a bear story to relate.

It's not just of bears damaging cornfields or killing sheep. Neighbors talk of friends and acquaintances running into bears while jogging or walking along well-traveled roads, while walking the dog. Of hunters spotting several bears while perched in tree stands awaiting deer or other game. Of bears turning over beehives, of bears visiting weekend campers.

"When I first moved up here in 1979, I never even heard people talk about bears," said Patty Manown, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Natural Resources. "Now, the average person is seeing them and hearing about them. People are always talking about bear sightings, about bears being killed on [Interstate] 68."

Concern about the state's growing bear population -- believed to number more than 200 in a place where only a dozen or so were known in the 1950s -- prompted DNR to appoint a citizens task force to study the state's policies for dealing with nuisance bears, as those troublesome to people are called.

The task force recommended last month that the state allow a limited bear hunt and use money raised from hunting and other fees to compensate beekeepers and farmers of livestock and crops for damage caused by bears.

That recommended policy change will get a public airing this month in four meetings around the state, the first at 7 p.m. today at Northern High School in Accident. Other meetings are scheduled for Annapolis, Timonium and Easton.

"A lot of people up here say we don't need bears," said Homer Reichenbecher, who farms 170 acres near Keysers Ridge.

He is among the crop farmers in Garrett County who have seen bears ravage his cornfields. Others, such as Lee Shillingburg, who raises sheep, have seen bears kill livestock. The DNR recently killed a sow that had killed sheep at Mr. Shillingburg's Gorman farm -- the third bear killed there in the past three years.

Hunting favored

Many here, hunters and nonhunters alike, favor a limited hunting season.

Under the task force's proposal, a hunt would be limited to problem areas in Allegany and Garrett counties. Hunters would be chosen by lottery.

"I basically like black bears," said Marshall Stacy, a Christmas tree farmer in Swanton who served on the task force. "The chance to see a bear in the wild, I think, is worth having them around. But I think we've gone beyond the point where we can support more and more bears. A lot of us [on the task force] felt we did enough study. If we don't do something, we're not going to have bears here anymore."

Not everyone supports even a limited hunt.

D. J. Schubert, a wildlife biologist in Silver Spring who represents the Fund for Animals, has issued a 22-page report challenging the task force's recommendations.

Mr. Schubert said the state lacks biological data to justify a bear hunting season and is pursuing a short-term solution to nuisance problems without considering long-term impacts.

"No credible organization would ever consider establishing a hunt on a species whose population size is only 200 animals," he said.

But the figure actually is much larger considering that neighboring West Virginia and Pennsylvania have thousands more black bears, and the creatures know no state boundaries. Both states permit bear hunting.

Mr. Schubert suggested alternatives to a hunt: expanded educational programs about bears, more technical assistance to farmers and hiring more DNR staff to respond to complaints.

'Not cute and cuddly'

Peggy Gosnell, who lives along aptly named Bear Creek near Accident and has seen her share of bears, expresses frustration with the views of animal-rights activists and city folks who might object to a hunt.

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