Trunk helps them hear bear truth


October 27, 2002|By CANDUS THOMSON

Walking along the Appalachian Trail one fall afternoon, I spied something sunning itself about 100 yards ahead.

"Dog!" I hollered to my companions, pointing at the dark fuzzy lump turning slowly in our direction.

"Too large for a dog," half of my brain sputtered while the other half raced through my animal flash cards.

It was, of course, a black bear. And I was, of course, red-faced.

An encounter with a bruin isn't commonplace in Maryland. State biologists put the black bear population at around 327, with fewer than one-third of them living east of Cumberland.

The size of that population is one factor driving decision-making about whether or not Maryland should allow a black bear hunt.

The numbers also mean it's hard to give kids - especially the suburban kind - a sense of what the bears are all about.

They pop up occasionally on the Animal Planet channel (bears, not suburban kids) and on anti-forest fire commercials. They have a song, sort of (who could forget that 1932 classic, "Teddy Bears' Picnic?")

Looking for a more local approach, state biologist Karina Blizzard worked with teachers and colleagues to devise something that a slick Madison Avenue PR man might call "Black Bear in a Box."

The much more sensible Department of Natural Resources calls it the Black Bear Education Trunk.

It's one of those 30-gallon plastic storage bins stuffed full of the bear necessities for a classroom tutorial: a hide, a plastic skull, a rubber paw print and scat replica. Accompanying the box is a lesson plan tailored to various grade levels, a slide show and a video.

Teachers can check out one of six identical boxes for up to two weeks. Since the introduction of the program last year, about 40 of them have done so.

One satisfied customer is Mike Fiscus, who teaches fifth grade at Flintstone Elementary School in Allegany County. He used the trunk last fall and will again in the spring.

Contrary to what eastern Marylanders might think, Fiscus says bears aren't a part of everyday life out there.

"Some kids have seen a bear, but they're kind of rare," he says. "Almost every kid can say, `I know somebody who saw one.' "

The trunk is a great way to introduce youngsters to the biggest member of Maryland's wildlife club and get them thinking about the ecosystem bears live in.

"We learned about bears' habitat and human interaction. They were totally engaged. They never got bored, not even with the slide show," he says.

Fiscus, who loves hands-on learning, uses a stream behind the school for field study of invertebrates, but was stumped on land-based animals.

"You can't go out and sample bears like you can insects," he says. "The trunk solved that."

Blizzard would like to have deer and waterfowl trunks, but each one costs "several hundred dollars, and budget constraints prevent that."

Fiscus says he would use those trunks, too, as would other teachers.

"Now that I've worked with it, I know there's a lot more I can do with it. The trunk is just great," he says.

Perhaps some of Maryland's hunting groups could raise money or supply the materials for the trunks. It's a natural for the education-minded Ducks Unlimited, Quail Unlimited or local chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Maybe the Maryland Sportsmen's Association or the Izaak Walton League could lead the effort.

Blizzard says the four Wildlife and Heritage regional offices have boxes that can be signed out. In these parts, call 410-836-4557; in southern Maryland, call 410-260-8540; on the Eastern Shore, call 410-543-6595; in the west, call 301-777-2136.

Unfortunately, adults hoping to brush up on their blackbearology won't be as lucky as the kids. The presentation by DNR's Harry Spiker scheduled for this Thursday at Bass Pro Shop at Arundel Mills mall has been canceled.

Turnout for the monthly talks has been abysmal, and having one on Halloween was an invitation to a ghost town. DNR will try again next month with a talk on white-tailed deer. We'll keep you posted.

But if you have a hankering to talk bear and don't mind traveling, the state's Black Bear Task Force will be taking public comment on its recommendation for a limited hunting season.

The meeting will be at 7 p.m., Nov. 17 in the auditorium at Garrett College in McHenry.

The group was assembled in January by Chuck Fox, DNR secretary, in response to efforts by sportsmen and some lawmakers to lift the 47-year bear-hunting ban. A measure to authorize a limited season was gutted by the House and killed by the Senate last session.

The task force voted 6-4 in favor of a hunt, but left most of the details up to DNR biologists and managers.

It also voted to recommend to end the ineffective Black Bear Conservation Stamp program that compensates farmers for crop damage. Farmers complained that tapping the fund required tons of paperwork and the amount never covered the damages.

Will the recommendation lead to a hunt? Magic 8 ball says, "Could be."

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.