Good mast crop bodes well for W. Md. bear, turkey Nuisance complaints expected to be minimal

Notebook

October 25, 1998|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

While the abundant mast crop in Western Maryland will keep wild turkeys spread out in Allegany and Garrett counties this year, it probably also will help keep the state's black bear population in the forests and out of people's garbage cans and farm crops.

According to Steven L. Bittner, forest game project manager for the Department of Natural Resources, this year's survey of mast crops -- acorns, hickory and beechnuts and wild apples, for example -- found an abundance in Garrett County and substantially more in Allegany County than last year.

Because there is ample mast this year, DNR expects nuisance bear complaints to be minimal, and so far this year crop damage complaints have been well below record levels of last year, when "acorns were virtually non-existent."

October represents a crucial period for the state's population of black bears, according to Bittner, because this is the month during which they forage extensively for high-energy carbohydrates, primarily acorns and other nuts.

The heavy feeding, which may produce weight gains of two pounds per day, allows the bears to add large amounts of fat in preparation for winter hibernation.

Documented damage to agricultural crops last year was in excess of $45,000, as bears turned to standing corn in the absence of acorns. In April and May of this year nuisance complaints again were high, including bears rummaging through garbage in search of food.

But once natural foods such as crab apples, berries and acorns became available, the complaints dropped off.

Mast surveys have been conducted annually since 1976, and only in 1976 and 1994 has the overall acorn count been higher than this year's in Garrett County.

In Allegany County, the acorn count is rated as poor and spotty, but other mast crops such as hickory nuts and Devil's Walking Stick are rated as heavy and "it appears there are plenty of acorns available for bears and other wildlife in Western Maryland in 1998."

Oh, deer!

Through much of the year, white-tailed deer maintain a home range of about one square mile, but as October blends into November, the whitetails become more active in response to a shorter photoperiod and the urge to breed.

According to DNR, the peak of the breeding season, or rut, is in the first two weeks of November, a time when mature bucks are pursuing does, male fawns are being separated from their mothers and young bucks are searching for breeding territories of their own.

"All this natural white-tailed deer movement increases the number of deer crossing highways," said DNR Secretary John R. Griffin. "This in turn increases the chances for motorists to strike deer."

And as the state's deer population grows, there are more deer on the move, and collisions with deer increase.

Reported deer-vehicle collisions have risen from just over 1,900 per year to 3,600 annually in the last three years, according to DNR statistics.

DNR offers the following tips for motorists encountering deer in or along the state's roadways:

A deer standing calmly in a field may suddenly jump into the

road. Anticipate the possibility and be prepared.

If one deer is seen crossing the road ahead, slow down and look for additional deer, which often are hidden from view behind the leader.

Be especially cautious during early morning and late afternoon hours when deer are moving to or from feeding areas and their daytime beds.

Pay attention to signs locating areas where deer frequently cross.

Slow to avoid hitting a deer, but do not swerve or suddenly change lanes, either of which can cause a more serious collision with road barriers, guard rails, trees or other vehicles.

Pub Date: 10/25/98

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