Governor says fall black bear hunt will go on

Legislators recommend against killing 30 animals

August 26, 2004|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

More than 100 people - many wearing neon green stickers proclaiming "No Bear Hunt!" - persuaded a legislative committee yesterday to recommend against holding Maryland's first bear hunt in a half-century.

But a spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., whose Department of Natural Resources proposed letting hunters kill black bears this fall to control a growing population, said Ehrlich will ignore the 12-7 vote of the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee.

"The governor is going to allow DNR to move ahead with their plans," said Paul F. Schurick, Ehrlich's communications director. "The governor asked the scientists at DNR for a recommendation, and the science has not changed."

Michael Markarian, president of an advocacy group called the Fund for Animals, promised a lawsuit to protect the bears. Other groups also object to the state's plans.

"This hunt amounts to a political payback by the governor to the NRA and other trophy-hunting advocacy groups who have supported him," said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.

The AELR committee, charged with reviewing state regulations, heard testimony from supporters and foes of the plan to allow licensed hunters to kill 30 of the state's approximately 500 bears in October.

Paul Peditto, director of DNR's Wildlife and Heritage Service, said the National Rifle Association had nothing to do with the plan, which he said is meant to address problems caused by the bears. A growing number are being hit by cars, he said.

Peditto said that killing less than 10 percent of the state's bears each year wouldn't hurt the species, which was endangered in Maryland three decades ago but has since grown in number.

The state receives about 150 complaints a week about bears, including reports of the animals breaking truck windows and stealing lunches, and rummaging through trash in suburban subdivisions, Peditto said.

"We now average more than 30 bears who are hit and killed by cars in Western Maryland a year, often injuring drivers," he said. "To our mind, the time has come to stabilize our bear population so that people and bears can coexist."

Maryland has prohibited bear hunting since 1953, and the state listed black bears as an endangered species in 1972. But the population has been growing in Western Maryland and has been migrating eastward. The state estimated there were between 266 and 437 black bears in 2000, with the population growing about 14 percent a year.

The Department of Natural Resources is proposing to select 200 hunters through a lottery, which will cost $15 to enter, and allowing the licensed hunters to kill a total of 30 bears between Oct. 25 and Oct. 30. If 30 bears are not killed, hunting will be allowed from Dec. 6 to Dec. 11.

Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, said he worries that bear hunters will go overboard, kill too many bears and not tell the state, and put the black bear back on the endangered list.

But Del. John F. Wood Jr., a Democrat from St. Mary's County, said people in rural areas want the bear population reduced. "You've got people out in Western Maryland whose children are afraid to go out and play," Wood said.

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