Overbearing concerns Proposed bear hunt: Protections, alternatives to hunting season should be explored.

November 12, 1995

THE RECOVERY of the black bear in Western Maryland's mountain woodlands is a bona fide success story for wildlife management. It's also a horror story for some residents who share their habitat with the bears, which have become increasingly comfortable with human surroundings.

That's a potentially dangerous familiarity, when these large, wild creatures appropriate porches and driveways, feast on cornfields and livestock, forage garbage cans and bird feeders.

While there's no documented bear attack on a human in Maryland in modern times, the close encounters appear on the rise with the expansion of development in Garrett and Allegany counties and the growth of the state's bear population, estimated at 200 animals.

A Department of Natural Resources task force, now holding public hearings, proposes a limited hunt of black bears in areas where they are a demonstrated nuisance or danger. The panel also recommends state compensation for farmer losses to bears of livestock, crops and bee hives, plus an expanded education program to teach people how to avoid unpleasant confrontations with their ursine neighbors.

The latter two proposals have merit. But the idea of hunting black bears, which numbered only a dozen animals in Maryland 40 years ago, appears an unjustified overreaction. Their numbers are insufficient for hunting, even if the state's habitat can't sustain larger populations, given the numbers killed by poachers, motorists and legal hunters in adjoining states where thousands of black bears roam.

Maryland wildlife managers shoot individual nuisance bears, trap and relocate others. So a workable alternative to a hunting season could be expansion of these controlled programs.

Black bears are a sign of a healthy environment, and a magnet for many nature watchers drawn to Western Maryland as visitors or residents. No one should confuse a 400-pound wild bear with a stuffed teddy bear, but neither should anyone try to confuse this magnificent mammal with a shooting gallery target.

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