Md. bear season begins today

State officials to permit killing of 55 animals in western counties

October 24, 2005|By TOM PELTON | TOM PELTON,SUN REPORTER

The state's second black bear hunt in a half-century begins today in two Western Maryland counties.

More than 2,000 hunters paid $10 each to enter a lottery for 200 permits, which will allow hunters and one or two companions each to try to shoot black bears. The result is that about 500 people with guns will be out in the woods of Garrett and western Allegany counties.

Once nearly extinct in the state, black bears have multiplied in Western Maryland over the past 50 years as the state imposed a ban on hunting and as abandoned farms reverted to forest.

An estimated 514 bears live in the state, and they frequently dig through people's garbage cans or get hit by cars, said Paul Peditto, director of wildlife and heritage services at the state Department of Natural Resources.

"We will continue to try manage conflicts between bears and humans in a nonlethal way. But at the end of the day, this bear population will continue to grow, and hunting is the most effective method of managing the population," Peditto said.

During the hunt last fall, the state set a limit of 30 bears but ended the season after one day, with 20 animals shot. Officials worried that a second day might lead to the deaths of more than the limit.

During the season opening at sunrise today, state game managers will allow the killing of up to 55 bears. But officials will use their judgment and might call the hunt off when as few as 40 bears are checked in at state weigh stations, Peditto said.

"Our goal is to begin slowing the growth of the bear population," he said. "We'll never wipe out the bear population using the current model."

It might take three or four days for hunters to kill at least 40 bears, Peditto said. This is fewer than the estimated 72 bears that are born each year in Maryland, although 36 a year are killed by trucks and cars. Some of these collisions also injure drivers.

"We continue to experience conflicts between people and bears," Peditto said. "We've had some pretty dramatic accidents and injuries."

Michael Markarian, executive vice president of the Gaithersburg-based Humane Society of the United States, said he does not expect any lawsuits or protests to try to stop the hunt this year, as there were last fall.

But Markarian said he sent a letter to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. last week urging him to cancel the hunt. Markarian said it would be more sensible for the state to teach homeowners about ways to store their garbage in sealed containers so bears don't rip into it.

Markarian's letter said that development in Western Maryland should be blamed, not the bears. "With urban expansion and more people retreating to areas of bear habitat, conflict will ensue unless aggressive public education programs are implemented," Markarian wrote.

In a phone interview Friday, Markarian said he had not heard a response from the governor's office. "We tried to block the hunt through legislation and a court challenge, and ultimately that was not successful," Markarian said. "Now this is up to Governor Ehrlich, and the governor seems to be committed to the trophy hunting of bears."

tom.pelton@baltsun.com

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