Bearing the burden

Black bears: State, residents need to control ursine problem, but not with hunting season.

January 25, 2000

PROPOSALS to authorize a hunting season for black bears in Maryland are misguided, ignoring less drastic, practical solutions.

The problem is that a growing number of bears are coming in contact with human activity in Western Maryland. Whether raiding garbage cans or farm crops, feeding on livestock or wandering around back yards of homes, the black bear is a decided nuisance (and danger) to humans there.

As it becomes more used to human presence, the normally shy animal becomes less wary of encounters.

Shooting the creatures should be a last resort. After all, it was not long ago that the black bear was virtually extinct in the mountains of Western Maryland. The state took serious steps, including a hunting ban, to restore the wild animal over the past four decades, a notable success story for wildlife restoration.

Faced with the same problem four years ago, the state issued a $5 black bear stamp to finance controls of the animal and farmer compensation. It was a challenge to conservationists to help with wildlife management instead of simply opposing a bear hunt.

So far, revenues from the stamp have not been enough to cover half the farmer damage claims for lost crops, animals and bee hives.

Efforts to force the use of bear-proof garbage containers have been inadequate. Without government aid, electric fencing of fields remains an expensive option.

All these measures have been under-funded and under-enforced.

What's needed is an injection of money from the state to accelerate these control programs. State funds should supplement bear-stamp income.

The presence of wild Ursus americanus is a reminder of the region's natural past and a sign of a healthy environment. It's an attraction for nature tourism. Protecting bears does not deprive the state of "recreational activity" as hunting advocates assert, but instead promotes nonlethal recreational opportunities.

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