Judge's ruling allows state bear hunt to begin Monday

Animal-rights group's plea for injunction is rejected

October 19, 2004|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

A judge gave the green light yesterday to Maryland's first bear hunt in 51 years when he refused an animal-rights group's request for an injunction to block the season, scheduled to start Monday.

Prince George's County Circuit Judge Thomas P. Smith rejected several complaints in the suit whose plaintiffs included the Silver Spring-based Fund for Animals, and also observed that the bears had no legal rights.

Smith dismissed as speculative the complaints of a Western Maryland property owner who contended in the Sept. 27 lawsuit that her right to enjoy watching bears on her land might be harmed by the hunt. He said there was no serious harm if the Maryland Department of Natural Resources missed deadlines in publishing its regulations for the hunt.

"It reminds me of the gray-haired lady in the Wendy's commercial: `Where's the beef? At the end of the day, so what?'" Smith asked. "I don't mean to be facetious, but bears don't have any legal standing in this case."

Harry Spiker, director of the state's black bear program, said the decision means that the state will move ahead with plans to allow licensed hunters to kill about 30 bears a year.

The hunt will be held Monday through Oct. 30 and Dec. 6 through Dec. 11 in Garrett and Allegany counties in Western Maryland, but will be called off as soon as hunters report killing a total 30 bears.

"We are going to go forward with the hunt, as planned," Spiker said. "We are looking to stabilize the growth in the bear population and keep the growth at a rate that is acceptable for people and bears."

After dropping to a low of about a dozen bears in 1950, the state's black bear population has rebounded to about 500 as a prohibition on hunting worked and forests returned to areas once cleared for farming.

Michael Markarian, president of the Fund For Animals, which joined the Humane Society of the United States and others in suing the state, said that his group is planning a protest and talking to its lawyers about the possibility of an appeal.

"Unfortunately, it's looking grim for Maryland's bears, and it's probable that the animals will be killed for their heads and hides for the first time in more than 50 years," Markarian said.

Only Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has the power to stop the hunt now, Markarian said. The group is discussing holding a vigil outside the governor's mansion Sunday night.

"The blood is on his hands if this moves ahead, and it's his responsibility," said Markarian.

Shareese N. DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for Ehrlich, said yesterday that the governor will not change his mind. "The governor's position has been consistent: that the administration will defer to science. That hasn't changed," DeLeaver said.

Attorneys for the state argued yesterday that killing a carefully controlled number of bears every year will not endanger or eradicate the species and will help keep bears from overpopulating.

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