With 20 bears killed in a day, Md. ends first hunt in 51 years

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

MOUNT NEBO -Maryland's first bear hunt in 51 years lasted just one day as hunters bagged at least 20 animals of the state's 30-bear limit.

The hunt was to have run through Saturday in Garrett County and part of western Allegany, but the Department of Natural Resources ended it last night. The DNR had confirmed 20 bears killed and received calls suggesting that several others had been killed, officials said.

"What it means is that bear hunters had a good day of hunting," said Harry Spiker, the state's chief wildlife biologist. "We've got an abundant bear population here, and the good weather played into it. ... We thought it better to end it after one day rather than going grossly over tomorrow."

A message for hunters on the state's bear hunt hot line said: "We truly regret any inconvenience this may have caused, but our first responsibility is to Maryland's natural resources."

The state authorized the hunt to control a rising population that has become a nuisance in Western Maryland. As of last night, 16 bears had been processed at the state's two check-in stations and another three to five were still in the field, state officials said. The stations were to remain open today to process any other bears shot yesterday.

About 200 hunters headed into the woods early yesterday, accompanied by about 150 others. State police kept animal-rights activists with video cameras away from the check-in stations.

The first bear was taken early in Garrett County. The mist was thick in the woods at dawn, condensation dripping from the white oaks, when David Ciekot of Cambridge saw a dark shape moving toward him down a logging trail.

As the animal came within five feet of the tree where he was perched, Ciekot could see it was a small, young bear, he later told reporters at the check-in station. The bear bolted when he raised his rifle, running about 40 yards before Ciekot shot it through the chest.

The killing of the 84-pound, 10-month-old female black bear roused objections from animal-rights activists. It showed that hunters and state game officials weren't just targeting nuisance bears, said Michael Markarian, president of the Silver Spring-based Fund for Animals.

"The state keeps saying the need for this bear hunt is based on science, but there's no science in shooting bear cubs," Markarian said. "The fact that a 10-month-old cub was killed by a hunter shows that the hunters are careless and the DNR isn't doing it's job to protect this population."

But Paul A. Peditto, director of Wildlife and Heritage Service, part of the state Department of Natural Resources, disagreed. The state didn't create any age or sex limits for the bears targeted for the hunt, he said.

"It would be nearly impossible to distinguish gender in the wild, and an age criteria would be physically impossible to implement," said Peditto. "Pennsylvania tried using weight-based criteria in its bear hunts but abandoned it because it's very difficult to determine in the field."

Spiker said the animal's age is irrelevant because the state needs to control the bear population, which hovers around 500. Killing young bears achieves the same goal as killing older ones, he said.

"The people of Maryland enjoy having bears now, but it's time to start slowing the population growth so people don't get sick of having them around," Spiker said.

About 10:45 a.m., a gray Ford sport utility vehicle rumbled up the road into the check-in station at the Mount Nebo Wildlife Management Area in Garrett County, carrying the second bear of the day wrapped in a green tarp atop the trailer.

As state officials measured the animal, Sheridan Green, 59, a retired IRS agent from Garrett County, described how he killed the 114-pound male.

That morning, he and a cousin were walking through a stand of oak trees in Potomac State Forest, in the southeastern section of the county. They thought bears might visit the area, because the forest floor was thick with acorns, which the animals are devouring to gain weight for hibernation.

A bear emerged from the trees about 100 yards off, and Green lined up a shot behind its shoulder. The bear ran 20 yards, then collapsed.

"I'm going to make a rug," Green said. "I wasn't going to do this hunt, but my wife asked me to do it for the rug. ... I was very nervous after I made the kill, because this is a big thing. A once-in-a-lifetime thing."

Animal-rights activists filed a lawsuit in an unsuccessful bid to stop the hunt and held protests at the State Capitol.

Ciekot, 35, a freelance outdoors columnist and part-time state agricultural department worker, said he wasn't bothered by the protests or that the bear he killed was a young one.

"I knew it wasn't very big, but I was shooting whatever came through," said Ciekot, surrounded by cameras and reporters at the check-in station. "This bear would have grown and become a big bear at some point. I was actually glad it wasn't a 500-pound bear, because I'd have to carry it out of there."

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