Wrestling with state's bear problem could prove ticklish


October 26, 2003|By CANDUS THOMSON

Please bear with me.

After a two-week tour of the northeast territories that took me to my mom's home in New Jersey (where the first bear hunt in three decades is set for December) and Maine (where a referendum to ban bear baiting may be headed for the 2004 ballot), I come back to the land of pleasant living to find that something is bruin here, too.

After studying and restudying the issue, Maryland has decided to include hunting as one of the ways to keep the black bear population under control. There are about 400 bears in the western part of the state; the hunt would reduce the total by 30.

This, of course, makes sense. And, of course, it will be challenged by people who make a living by opposing hunting.

Paul Peditto, the head of DNR's Wildlife and Heritage Service, says he is watching how New Jersey game officials handle the final weeks until the Dec. 8-13 hunt.

"That's the big test for us," he says. "Politically it's a similar situation ... but I think I'm holding the best cards."

The cards are these:

DNR's good standing with the leaders of the legislature, as evidenced by a number of successes this year. Passage of a Sunday hunting bill, the rejection of a measure to ban bear hunting for six years and the easy manner in which DNR adopted crossbow hunting regulations are all evidence of that.

The most recent Black Bear Task Force, which included in its report last March a recommendation to include a limited hunt as a management tool.

The increasing number of bears and the corresponding increase in conflicts with people.

However, as the mute swan case proved, the courts are a more dicey forum.

Make no mistake, the anti-hunting folks are cranking up their rhetoric. (By the way, have you noticed how these jokers have dropped white-tailed deer as a fund-raising mascot now that vehicle-deer accidents and Lyme disease are so commonplace?)

If you want to see what the strategy will be, go to the new Web site set up by the Fund for Animals - www.marylandbears.com.

The fund complains that the Black Bear Task Force was "Predictably ... stacked with hunting advocates," which conveniently overlooks the fact that it was assembled by then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who would hardly be mistaken for that b'ar-killer, Davy Crockett.

It further states: "The hunting recommendation was scientifically flawed, politically motivated, and contrary to the wishes of more than 80 percent of Maryland citizens who submitted comments on the task force report."

Huh? What politician hoping for a long and prosperous career is going to embrace a hunt that is opposed by a vast majority?

Also on the site is a "sample" letter to send to the governor and DNR Secretary Ron Franks that says, in part, "There is no rationale for a bear hunt in Maryland. A recreational bear hunt would not target specific `problem' bears and would not address any bear/human conflicts."

That's simply not true.

DNR has always targeted problem bears. Next fall's hunt would attempt to match permit holders with landowners who have reported nuisance bears.

"We know where the bears are. We've done our homework. We've had a lot of interaction with these bears," says Peditto.

Given the choice between wandering around in the woods, hoping for a close encounter, or being told where to find a bear, which option do you think a hunter would choose?

DNR will release its proposed 10-year plan to manage the bear population for public review and comment in mid-November. Let's not get caught napping on this one.

Targeting hunger

Recently, both Kendel Ehrlich and her husband have advocated shooting.

The first lady suggested Britney Spears as a target. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has a better idea: deer.

The governor has declared November "Maryland Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry Month."

The Hagerstown-based non-profit that bears the same name provides venison to food banks and pantries. It began in 1997, and has spread to 26 states.

In that time, FHFH has distributed 1,400 tons of meat, which translates into 11.2 million servings.

Hunters either donate a portion of their deer or the whole thing, in which case FHFH pays the processing charge. Spokesman Josh Wilson estimates that the charity has spent $2 million since the program's inception to convert deer into food.

FHFH isn't some fancy outfit with folks making six figures and driving fancy cars. It doesn't have a telethon or banks of phone solicitors bothering you at dinner time.

Wilson and his volunteers work in the same cramped office in Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church that they've always called home. The space is donated, and fund raising has mostly been word of mouth.

Organizers hope the governor's proclamation will remind hunters to donate venison and alert non-hunters that they can help by writing a check or making an on-line pledge to help cover the $35 butchering cost of each deer.

To find a participating butcher or to make a donation, go to www.fhfh.org or call 866-438-3434.

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