Stop slaughter in Western Md.

October 24, 2005|By E. JOSEPH LAMP

Beginning today, up to 55 of Maryland's small population of black bears - including the cubs - will die for the pleasure of a small group of people who can't wait to kill them with a bullet or an arrow, all in the name of sport and recreation.

It's recreational killing, and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and the state Department of Natural Resources are sanctioning it. The open season on black bears can run until the maximum of 55 bears are killed or through Friday. Last year, hunters killed 20 bears, all on the first day. Yet that wasn't enough for DNR or the hunters.

As a member of DNR's Wildlife Advisory Commission appointed in 1998 by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and as someone who has followed Maryland's black bear management program for over a decade, I see a horror about to commence, and it must be stopped. I am the only non-hunter on the nine-member WAC.

DNR has yet to produce any scientific evidence supporting a need for holding a generalized bear hunting season in Western Maryland. Instead, DNR has hunter groups with members wound up for the chance to kill an innocent black bear; a supportive Maryland farm bureau; no evidence connecting its claims to hard data from a 2003 Black Bear Task Force report; and a governor who ignored a recommendation by a General Assembly Committee in August 2004 to end bear hunts.

DNR has documents going back to 2000 from such hunter lobbying groups as the Maryland Sportsmen's Association, the Maryland Bowhunters Society and the Washington County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs asking for a bear-hunting season.

As for the Maryland Farm Bureau endorsing this hunt, that's a joke. During my seven years on the WAC, I have never seen a hunt that the farm bureau didn't endorse. The Black Bear Task Force, which was appointed early in the decade to study this issue, based its conclusions on not one shred of scientific evidence supporting a need for this hunt. As for Mr. Ehrlich, he's in the hunters' hip pocket.

Here's the story behind Maryland's so-called bear problems that are cited to justify the hunt: According to DNR's data from 1997 to 2000 (the last data given to WAC commissioners), complaints about bears were made chiefly by citizens of Western Maryland. Of the 1,782 complaints, the overwhelming majority were about bears and trash (39 percent), seeing bears (19 percent) and bears in bird feeders (10 percent).

At the bottom of the list were concerns by farmers such as bears damaging cornfields (4 percent), bears in beehives (2 percent) and bears harming poultry (0.5 percent).

All of these problems have nonlethal solutions, which would allow the majority of bears and humans to co-exist. In instances in which a rogue bear cannot be contained using nonlethal methods, DNR has fully trained personnel and the authority to euthanize or shoot the animal as necessary. Randomly killing as many as 55 bears for sport will not keep other bears from raiding trash cans or munching from bird feeders.

Last year, when the Humane Society of the United States offered DNR $75,000 to more than cover the costs of farm damage reportedly caused by the bears, DNR rejected the offer. The hunt would go on.

The majority of DNR's funding for wildlife-related management comes from the sale of hunting licenses, which cost $24.50. This year, 2,399 hunters paid an additional $15 for a chance in a lottery to win one of 200 bear-hunting permits.

Politically, the hunters are right on course, too. Guided by state Sen. John C. Astle, an Anne Arundel County Democrat - and an African safari big-game hunter - the hunters have their own special lobbying group in Annapolis called the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus. The animals have no voice, no vote.

Unfortunately, the Humane Society of the United States cannot protest the bear hunt this year, as it did last year with a rally in Annapolis, because it had to deploy virtually all of its personnel to save wildlife and domestic animals in the aftermath of the Gulf Coast hurricanes.

The black bears have only us to speak up for them. They don't deserve to die in the name of recreational opportunity for hunters.

E. Joseph Lamp, a commissioner of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Advisory Commission, is a professor at Anne Arundel Community College.

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