Suit filed to stop black-bear hunt in Western Maryland

State's plan for culling lacks sound research, say animal-rights activists

September 28, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Animal-rights activists filed a lawsuit yesterday in an effort to stop Maryland's first bear hunt in 51 years.

The Fund for Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, both based in Montgomery County, have asked for an injunction to temporarily stop the hunt and for a hearing before Oct. 25, the first day of the season.

"People are outraged about this hunt," said Michael Markarian, president of the Fund for Animals. "It runs contrary to the wishes of the public, the wishes of the legislature and statutory mandates. This is really galvanizing people who want to stop this."

The lawsuit, filed in Prince George's County Circuit Court, says the state's plan to cull 30 bears from an estimated population of nearly 500 animals in Western Maryland is not based on sound scientific research.

Further, killing the bears will "diminish [plaintiffs'] opportunity to view bears on their property," the lawsuit says.

In addition to the two organizations, the plaintiffs include an employee of the fund and David Michael Stricker, a Baltimore County resident whose family owns property on Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County.

The Department of Natural Resources declined to comment on the lawsuit. But pro-hunting organizations have been quick to respond, filing in court to intervene in the case.

"Maryland wildlife experts have concluded that a hunt is necessary to control the rising bear population," said Rick Story, senior vice president of the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance Foundation.

"The lawsuit is another attempt by animal-rights groups to fulfill their mission of ending hunting," he said. "We are confident that sound science, common sense and the law will prevail in the courtroom."

The black bear season is set for Oct. 25-30 and Dec. 6-11 in Garrett County and western Allegany County, where the bulk of the bears live.

Permit holders will be required to check with DNR the night before the hunt to ensure the quota has not been reached.

During the two-week application period, 2,372 people paid a $15 fee to sign up for the chance to receive one of the 200 permits.

Of the total, 2,203 were Maryland residents and 170 were from out of state.

A private vendor chose the winners of the lottery by computer, and DNR posted application ID numbers on its Web site yesterday.

Markarian said Maryland residents - including those in the western part of the state - overwhelmingly oppose a bear hunt and prefer educating the public and nonlethal techniques to chase bears away.

"We are not talking about a minor adjustment to existing hunting regulations," Markarian said. "We are talking about adding a brand-new species. There shouldn't be a rush to judgment. The threshold has to be set very high, and the DNR has to meet that. It is our position that they haven't done that, not even close."

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