Do listen here: Don't feed the bears!

July 30, 2006|By CANDUS THOMSON

Thoughtless humans, doing what they please, ignoring the warnings and advice just to satisfy their own desires to see wildlife up close, like some stupid TV show.

It happens at Assateague State Park, where morons feed and pet the wild ponies for a photo op. It happens on trails, where hikers toss bits of trail mix to birds and chipmunks.

And on July 20 at Deep Creek Lake State Park in Garrett County, cumulative thoughtless acts by people forced wildlife managers to kill a bear. She had three cubs.

Don't Feed the Bears. That succinct order doesn't include exceptions to allow the scattering of leftovers for the purpose of videotaping wildlife or leaving food on the picnic table while everyone goes swimming or failing to store food properly because you left your common sense at home.

It is illegal to feed black bears in Maryland. Period.

Everyone who camps in state parks in bear country gets the lecture. Parks staff patrols campsites looking for unattended coolers and food and picking up trash.

But that doesn't stop thoughtless people, who always find a way to act as if the world was meant for them alone.

In this case, a couple put their food in the vestibule of their tent instead of their soft-top Jeep because they didn't want it vandalized by a hungry bruin.

When they heard sounds close by the next morning, they unzipped the tent flap and saw a bear scamper away with their grocery bag of granola bars and pudding cups.

The bear stopped about five feet away, looked back and then ambled toward the next campsite.

"It was clear the bear was used to being fed by people," said Karina Blizzard, a Department of Natural Resources biologist.

Called at 6 a.m., the Black Bear Response Team from the DNR was at the site within a half hour. A bear biologist with tracking dogs arrived at 7 a.m. and quickly located the bear.

A news release said the bear was "euthanized," but make no bones about it, this was no trip to the vet.

"They don't just put them to sleep. They go out with firearms," Blizzard said.

There are other bears prowling the perimeter of Deep Creek State Park, but this one was the boldest.

Over the four years of its life, this bear learned to think of people as walking vending machines, not something to be feared. And she was bringing her offspring to the campsites to teach them the same fatal lesson.

Knowing she had cubs born in January, DNR wildlife managers tried all kinds of scare tactics this summer to avoid having to kill her: chasing her with dogs, dousing her with pepper spray and pelting her with rubber buckshot. They even relocated her at one point, but she returned to her food source.

Unfortunately, they could not unleash the same tactics on thoughtless humans.

So the outcome was inevitable.

"Our staff does everything in its power to keep this from happening. This is not what we're about," Blizzard said. "People who feed the bears can't make the connection that they're cute, but when they leave, the bear doesn't.

"This is not our responsibility alone," she continued. "It's the responsibility for everyone who visits bear country to keep those bears wild."

It's time for the legislature to appropriate money for bear-proof food lockers for each state park in Garrett and Allegany counties that allow camping. National parks such as Yosemite and Yellowstone require them. If the state is too cheap to buy containers, DNR should require people to rent them as a condition of camping.

Or perhaps the Humane Society of the United States, which offered $75,000 two years ago to stop the black bear hunt, could pay for the food lockers. That would be a gesture worth covering.

Blizzard said the three cubs are old enough to live on their own and have moved away from the campgrounds.

The selfish people left, too. But they'll no doubt be replaced by other selfish people.

And at some point next year or the year after, another bear will have to die.

Hot cooking

It was hot enough to poach a fish on the fishing pier at Point Lookout State Park on Friday (and I mean cook, not steal), but the hardy members of the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home fishing club were not about to wimp out.

Despite jellyfish and rays and bait-stealing crabs loitering around the pier, the armed forces veterans put a hurting on the local tidal fish population with the help of members of the Southern Maryland chapter of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association.

The MSSA guys baited hooks, put out the chum and kept the vets in cold bottled water and soft drinks to ward off the brutal heat.

Afterward, it was time for - what else - a cookout.

No hot ticket

Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry is not a hard sell.

The Hagerstown-based nonprofit group pays butchers to process deer into servings of venison that go to food pantries and other charities. In its nine seasons, Maryland hunters donated 12,955 deer, which translates to 647,750 pounds of venison or 2.59 million meals.

Last fall, more than 80 chapters nationwide combined to send 1.5 tons of deer and elk meat to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

But through no fault of its own, the group's latest fundraiser is a hard sell.

FHFH bought 250 tickets to the Orioles' Aug. 19 game - late afternoon against the Toronto Blue Jays - to sell for $13 each, with $5 per ticket going to the group. Every 10 sold provides 200 venison servings.

Unfortunately sales, like the Orioles, have been "very sluggish," said Josh Wilson, the head of Maryland FHFH. "We've got close to 200 tickets remaining so needless to say we're getting anxious."

It would be a shame if the group had to "eat" the tickets instead of putting its money into feeding the hungry. To order a ticket, call Maryland FHFH at 301-739-3000, or e-mail staff@fhfh.org. candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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