State officials refuse to allow limited bear-hunting season

1953 ban will remain for at least two seasons

July 19, 2000|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Bear hunting, illegal in Maryland since 1953, will remain so at least for another two seasons.

Sarah Taylor-Rogers, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, announced yesterday that she has rejected a request from the state's hunters to open a limited season.

The black bear population has been growing in Western Maryland, and with it the number of complaints from rural residents and farmers.

The Maryland Sportsmen's Association this spring asked for a two-day hunt, with participants chosen by lottery, to reduce the population. State biologists estimate there are 400 bears, most in Garrett and Allegany counties.

The Maryland Wildlife Advisory Commission voted in February to support a limited season.

Taylor-Rogers said hunting would cut the number of bears, but not the conflicts with civilization.

"I truly, truly believe a hunting season is not going to dis-embolden bear[s]," she said. "Sure, we can have a very limited hunting season, but it's not going to take care of the problem in Western Maryland."

She noted that West Virginia and Pennsylvania, which have bear seasons, still have conflicts between people and the animals.

She promised DNR will be more aggressive in trapping nuisance bears and trying to make them more fearful of humans by firing rubber bullets at them or exploding fireworks over their heads.

Timothy Lambert, president of the Maryland Sportsmen's Association, said so-called "aversive conditioning" is not a solution.

"What we have in Western Maryland are zoo animals looking to be fed," he said. "They see people, and they know there's food."

Lambert said the decision to postpone a hunt for two more years was driven by Gov. Parris N. Glendening's desire not to irritate anti-hunting groups.

"This will give Glendening the opportunity to get out of office," he said.

Taylor-Rogers acknowledged that anti-hunting sentiment, which she called "human dimensions" played a "critical role" in her decision.

"Even in Garrett County ... it has been made known to me that even people out there are somewhat divided," she said.

Instead of sanctioning a hunt, Taylor-Rogers said she will be reconvening a task force to study the issue, instituting focus groups to get public comment and waiting for completion of a comprehensive survey of the bear population.

Hunting groups predict there will be more human-bear conflicts.

"When the food source gets lean, and the bears get hungry, they're going to eat somebody's French poodle," said Steve Palmer, president of the Washington County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs.

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