Sportsmen's caucus counting on unity


November 18, 2001|By CANDUS THOMSON

EASTON -- They sure didn't look like rabble-rousers as they sat in the yellow and white tent, sampling wild game and soaking up some late fall sunshine.

But the members of the newly formed Maryland Sportsmen's Legislative Caucus might be the rebel elite of the next session in Annapolis.

The 60-member group came together toward the end of this year's legislative session, when sportsmen were feeling besieged by the Glendening administration on issues ranging from trapping to youth hunting programs.

"Before, we were all talking as individuals and we weren't talking to each other," said Sen. John Astle, co-chairman of the group. "Now, we can pool our strength."

Last weekend, the lawmakers had a get-acquainted bull roast and began talking strategy at the 520-acre farm of Bob Pascal, the former Anne Arundel County executive.

In addition to Astle, a Democrat from Anne Arundel County, the leaders of the caucus include two Republicans, Del. Kenneth Schisler from the Eastern Shore and Sen. John Hafer from Western Maryland, and Democratic Del. Katherine Klausmeir from Baltimore County and City.

Membership is strong where you'd expect it to be -- on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland -- but there are a surprising number of lawmakers from suburban counties on board.

Del. Martha Klima, a Baltimore County Republican, is an enthusiastic supporter. "Even though I'm not a hunter, I do believe we need to do something to maintain the balance of nature. There is a regulated role for hunters in Maryland."

She continued, "The strength of the caucus is it's just not one region."

"Or one interest," said Astle, finishing her sentence.

The caucus knows it will be tested early, with a bill from House Speaker Casper Taylor Jr. that would force the Department of Natural Resources to have a limited black bear hunt next fall. DNR has resisted pressure so far, and the new agency head, Chuck Fox, doubts scientific data will support a season.

Lawmakers also are expected to debate bills on Sunday hunting and how to protect the dwindling blue crab population.

Like the 250-member Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, the Maryland group will be supported by research from its own professional staff.

That will come in handy during some of the more controversial issues, Klima said.

"There's a lot I don't know about, but I am going to be called on to make these decisions," she said. "We need to take the emotion out and base our decisions on the evidence and science."

Quick response on bears

The ink was scarcely dry on their marching orders when members of the newly formed Bear Response Team in Western Maryland were put to the test not once, but three times, this month.

The black bear population has grown in Maryland from 200 animals to 330 in the past decade. Most of the animals live in the westernmost counties.

With close encounters between humans and bruins growing as habitat decreases, the Wildlife and Heritage Division of the Department of Natural Resources developed a plan in October to handle conflicts.

"We told staff to read it and follow it as the gospel," said division head Paul Peditto. "We want to make sure the public knows we have the people in place with the expertise to provide technical assistance."

Four teams were established, one for each DNR administrative region, to respond immediately to bear nuisance calls.

The test came just after midnight on Nov. 2 when a Garrett County farmer shot and killed a 348-pound male that was attacking his sheep. The bear had killed a ewe the previous day.

A biologist went to the scene and conducted an autopsy to confirm the legality of the shooting. Maryland does not permit the killing of a bear unless people or domestic animals are in danger.

At 7 p.m. the same day, another Garrett County man killed a 150-pound bear in his yard that had startled his wife and baby and sparked a confrontation with the family dog.

Again, a DNR biologist was quickly on the scene to conduct an investigation that was used by the state's attorney to determine that the shooting was justified.

At least 10 other bears have been killed by vehicles in Western Maryland since Oct. 22, Peditto said. In one incident, a vehicle killed a sow, and before response team members could find it, her cub was struck and killed, he said.

"The team has been unbelievable," Peditto said. "They've taken the initiative to learn about animal control and how to use chemical immobilizing agents. They have autonomy to make decisions, and those decisions have been good ones."

But the four-member team has had about all the in-field training it can stand.

"The good news is denning season is coming," Peditto said of the bear deep-sleep period.

Wind-chill adjustment

If you thought the wind-chill index was a bunch of hooey meant to scare you into staying on the couch all winter snuggling with a bag of Doritos, you were onto something.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.