Bear hunt opponents ask House panel to back ban

General Assembly

February 09, 2005|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,STAFF WRITER

They came bearing "No Bear Hunt" stickers, pleading to the House Environmental Matters Committee to ban the black bear hunting that was allowed last year for the first time in more than 50 years .

More than two dozen supporters of the bill said the killing of 20 bears last fall in the first state-sanctioned hunt of bears was a mistake that must not be repeated.

"I am not against hunting," said Del. Barbara Frush, a Democrat representing Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties and the committee member who sponsored the bill. "I oppose unnecessarily damaging our natural resources, and this is a population that we decimated once, and we're ready to do it again."

The state banned bear hunting more than 50 years ago after the population was near extinction. But the state Department of Natural Resources moved forward with regulated hunting of the animals after determining that the population is now close to 500 and that complaints about bears were on the rise.

The state limited the hunt to 30 animals and ended it after 20 were killed in just one day.

Yesterday, animal-rights advocates from The Humane Society and other groups came out in strong support of the bill, calling the hunt an excuse to permit a "trophy sport" under the guise of a population-control method.

"We should be extremely happy that this population has grown," said Michael Markarian, executive vice president of The Humane Society of The United States, based in Washington. "This population, however, is still small, and it does not justify trophy hunting."

DNR opposes the bill and defends the hunt as responsible and justified: "We have absolutely no intent of removing" the bear population, said Karina Blizzard, a DNR representative. "The objective," she added, "is to slow the growth of the black bear population."

In addition to DNR, others spoke against the bill, including several farmers and the president of the Maryland Sportsmen's Association.

An effort to extend the bear-hunting ban failed last year, when Frush came up two votes shy of the 12 needed to get it through the committee. This year, she said, she has 11 votes.

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