House panel backs off bear hunt

Would allow killing for property damage

February 16, 2002|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

A House of Delegates committee scrapped a proposal for a bear hunting season in Western Maryland yesterday and replaced it with a far less ambitious bill that would permit property owners to kill nuisance bears.

In a 13-8 vote, the House Environmental Matters Committee voted to send the scaled-down bear management bill to the full House, all but ensuring that Maryland's 48-year-old ban on bear hunting will continue.

The same committee also weakened a proposal to expand the state's deer season by allowing hunting on three Sundays. The amended bill would allow Sunday deer hunting -- but only on the first Sunday of the season.

Prospects for the two measures on the House floor are uncertain.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and other Western Maryland legislators had hoped to push a bill through the General Assembly to create a limited bear hunt to curb the population, estimated at 300 to 400 animals.

Instead, the committee approved a proposal that would allow the Department of Natural Resources to issue permits to landowners and farmers who have suffered property or crop damage because of bears. The landowner could use the permit -- or give it to someone else -- to kill the nuisance bear as long as the bear was on or near the damaged property.

Currently, a person can kill a bear only if the animal is a threat to people or livestock.

"It's not a hunt. It's the elimination of bear that are causing the problem," said Del. George W. Owings III, a Calvert County Democrat who sponsored the amendment that watered down the bear bill.

Del. George C. Edwards, a Garrett County Republican who was the lead sponsor of the bill to permit a hunting season, said he was disappointed by the committee's decision. "It really doesn't do anything that you are not legally able to do now," Edwards said, but added that he does not plan to try to amend the bill on the House floor.

Jeff Leitner, of the Fund for Animals, said his organization will continue to oppose the bill despite the changes. "This bill could allow landowners and farmers, in a sense, to have their own bear-hunting reserve," Leitner said.

Taylor said the bill that made it out of committee is "better than nothing."

Legislators agreed that the scaled-down bear management bill still faces a tough fight. "I am not convinced and [the Department of Natural Resources] is not convinced that the bear population is such that it warrants the taking of bears," said Del. Alfred W. Redmer Jr., a Baltimore County Republican. "We need to make these decisions based on science."

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