Some still gnaw away at bear facts


September 19, 2004|By CANDUS THOMSON

Nine thousand pounds of meat.

That, at the most basic level, is what Maryland's black bear season is all about.

Unfortunately, it's just one of the numbers in the goulash pot.

As the state readies for its first bear hunt in 51 years, opponents are clinging to their numerical favorites like static-charged wool socks on birthday balloons.

This much is not up for debate:

State wildlife managers want to let hunters kill 30 bruins, or about 9,000 pounds of bear, during one-week hunts in October and December. Of the 200 bear permits, 140 will be issued for private land only. The remaining 60 permits will be valid for both private and public lands.

The bear hunt regulation was posted Friday and becomes official on Sept. 27. Tuesday is the last day to sign up for the permit lottery.

By a vote of 12-7, a panel of state lawmakers last month asked Gov. Bob Ehrlich to postpone the hunt to allow more study. (With one exception, the vote broke along suburban/urban vs. rural jurisdictions).

Now, we get into the chewy parts.

Ehrlich said he saw no reason for another study given that two reviews had already been conducted - both for hunting foe Gov. Parris Glendening - that provided the scientific foundation for the hunt.

That made animal rights activists unhappy.

Ehrlich, "sided with the trophy hunters who want to kill bears for their heads and their hides," said Fund for Animals president Michael Markarian, who appears to wear leather shoes made from cows that, no doubt, willingly gave up their hides.

So unless a judge gets involved, bear hunters will be walking the woods in Garrett County and the western half of Allegany County a little more than a month from today.

Markarian has hinted that his group might go to court after Sept. 27 to stop the hunt.

Four years ago, the Department of Natural Resources estimated the bear population at 266 to 437 animals. Now, it puts the total at close to 500.

But the methodology came under attack last month from a statistician asked to review the numbers by an anti-hunting citizen.

Phillip Good, who has a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of California, called the DNR conclusions "inappropriate and grossly in error."

The lawyer for the Fund for Animals and U.S. Humane Society, Tanya Sanerib, said "it is impossible for DNR to challenge Dr. Good's credentials."

Well, maybe not his credentials, but perhaps his competence to offer "expert" advice. Here's an excerpt from a December 2000 review of Good's book on data analysis by the Journal of the American Statistical Association: "Basic concepts are given with little explanation, definitions are missing, examples are poorly implemented, there are conceptual errors that would mislead many readers, important issues are not discussed, and there are numerous outright errors. "

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Don't let the good doctor balance your checkbook or count your bears.

Markarian complains that DNR is hell-bent on having a hunt before the snow flies.

"We don't want to see the bears killed and we are the first to admit that," he said. "All we're asking for is a sensible approach. Why rush to judgment and say it has to be this year?"

Give me a break. This debate and review has been going on since William Donald Schaefer was governor. Just to be safe, though, let's tie the bear season to the next time the Orioles win the World Series. Say, 2020?

Bears already are dying in Maryland, 254 in the past nine years, including 57 last year. Vehicles got 179 of them - 38 last year.

Yet, despite the road kills, the population has continued to grow at about 14 percent a year. That's in line with other estimates that indicate Yogi and Boo-Boo are alive and well across the continent.

A joint 10-year study by the World Wildlife Fund and The World Conservation Union found that black bear populations appear to be stable or increasing across most of their North American range, and that the U.S. black bear population grew by at least 86,000 animals from 1988 to the mid-1990s.

In New Jersey, the bear population has gone from fewer than 100 to as many as 2,500 in three decades. During the same period, Pennsylvania's bear population has more than tripled to 15,000.

Markarian points out that Maryland's 500 animals aren't a lot when compared with neighboring states that allow bear hunting.

That's true, but he overlooks the fact that bear territory in Maryland is a lot smaller area than in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. If bears can't find food and shelter in the westernmost counties, how long will it be before they amble into Carroll, Howard, Baltimore and Montgomery counties?

And as bear sightings become more frequent in suburbia, how quickly will residents change their tune - as they did with white-tailed deer - and demand that wildlife managers "do" something? Probably within a nanosecond of the first sighting by a youngster at a school bus stop.

So far, more than 1,300 people have paid the $15 application fee to take part in the lottery.

In a letter sent Friday to the state, Sanerib, representing the Fund for Animals, said it is "unlawful" for DNR to take the fee for a hunt that doesn't yet exist. She suggested DNR suspend the October hunt and allow a judge "to resolve the merits of any legal challenge" to the regulations before the December hunt.

So on the one hand, the Fund for Animals wants DNR to stop taking money prematurely, but on the other hand it wants DNR to prematurely agree to go to court before the suit is filed.


DNR has never been challenged in court on any other animal population estimate. There's no evidence to suggest that wildlife managers want to wipe out the bear population.

How about letting the agency do its job and have the hunt? Come January, the legislature has four months to debate the merits.

About 9,000 pounds of meat.

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