Use head before putting foot in woods


September 26, 2004|By CANDUS THOMSON

We've entered the season when hikers, bikers and birders are sharing the woods with hunters.

Now, it's a big world out there, and state statistics show the number of accidents are about as frequent as my Megabucks wins.

"We've got plenty of room to spread out," says Mike Slattery, assistant secretary at the Department of Natural Resources. "We've never had a non-hunter injured or killed by a hunter. The vast, vast majority of our hunter-related accidents are self-inflicted and the vast majority of those are related to the misuse of tree stands."

But it never hurts to exercise a little caution along with your muscles.

"Just as you wouldn't step out in the middle of the course during a mountain bike race, you shouldn't wear buff-colored clothes with a white handkerchief sticking out of your back pocket during deer season," says Slattery. "Be keenly aware of your surroundings and dress responsibly."

As someone who has hiked in the New Jersey Pine Barrens during deer season, I can tell you that hunters in stands are aware of humans on the ground more often than hikers notice humans in trees.

The Appalachian Trail Conference, the steward of the country's most famous footpath, notes that hunting is permitted along more than half of the 2,174-mile trail that runs from Maine to Georgia.

About 818 miles run through Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, and almost all of it is through recreational land where hunting is allowed.

The ATC has some common-sense suggestions for its members:

Wear blaze orange that is visible both front and back. A hat, an inexpensive vest that fits over outerwear or a backpack cover will do the trick.

Use caution within a half-mile of road crossings and in valleys, which are prime hunter areas.

Be heard.

"You don't have to bang pots and pans," Slattery says. "Usually, the crunching of leaves underfoot and normal conversation are plenty of notice."

How do you know if you're on public land used for hunting?

Generally speaking, state wildlife management areas and state forests are open to hunters. Natural environment areas and most natural resource management areas are not. Some state parks allow hunting, but not in day-use areas.

If you aren't sure, check - the DNR's Web site.

Good humor

A couple of years back, I complained that state officials didn't do enough to promote Maryland's many outdoors opportunities to those living beyond our borders.

On the one hand, that's good for those of us who hate crowds mucking up favorite trails and paddling areas. But higher visitation means more revenue and, in a trickle-down world, maybe more money for a cash-strapped DNR.

Well, the Ehrlich administration has come through with a series of cute TV commercials in which the governor offers to do chores for homeowners so that they can play in Maryland. The four spots are airing in states within a day's drive of here. (Locals can see them on cable during Orioles games.)

Spoil-sport Democrats are whining that the promotions are thinly veiled re-election campaign spots. In a pronouncement with horrifying implications, party leaders want the legislature to become the Uber-scriptwriter.

State Sen. John Astle is a great outdoorsman, but Jerry Seinfeld he ain't.

Get a grip, Dems. The state went eight years with "Chuckles" Glendening running the laugh track. Who could forget his side-splitting performance in this 2001 tourism commercial: "Maryland," said the governor. "Welcome."

Woo-hoo. Gets me every time.

And don't tell me the Democrats wouldn't televise Martin O'Malley singing Irish ditties if they were to win back the Governor's Mansion in 2006: "Oh come ye back to Maryland, all ye lads and lasses. Just leave your money in my state, and I'll kiss your ... sons and daughters."

Nope, if I'm going to spend tax money to entice visitors, don't make me spend it on actors. Give me Bob Ehrlich - who I'm already paying - a regular guy with a sense of humor as he rakes leaves, fixes plumbing and clips hedges.

Now, if I can just get the governor to mow my lawn so I can go fishing.

Bearing down

In their successful effort to sway the legislative committee reviewing the bear hunt regulations, the opponents stretched the truth like it was Gumby.

They petrified suburban representatives by spinning a tale of last year's hunt in New Jersey. A bear cub "stumbled from the woods with blood on its paws as horrified commuters watched," said Michael Markarian of the Fund for Animals.

The police charging documents, however, showed the bear was hit by a car and stumbled into the road. The maimed animal was put down by a hunter, who then illegally took the bear home.

Anti-hunters also trashed the status report on the bear population by DNR biologist Steve Bittner. Relying on a letter from Phillip Good, a California statistician, the Fund told lawmakers the DNR study was "half-baked" and "inappropriate and grossly in error."

After reading accounts of how his letter was used, Good e-mailed Bittner and the anti-hunting advocate who requested his help: "I think it essential to clarify my position. The field studies performed by Bittner and his colleagues are solidly grounded. Their work has created a baseline for future studies of the black bear population in Maryland."

What Good took issue with was using the study to draw conclusions about the size of the population.

By the way, of the 2,372 applications for the black bear hunt lottery, 2,202 were made by Maryland residents.

In a sign that bodes well for the future of electronic hunting and fishing licenses, 1,371 people applied online and 1,001 called a phone center.

The 200 winners will be posted tomorrow on the DNR Web site, about the same time the Fund files for an injunction to block the hunt.

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