Annual bear politics in season, too

October 21, 2007|By CANDUS THOMSON

The tipping point.

There's always one when public opinion slides from one position to another or stops midway and dangles in the land of indifference.

With striped bass, the tipping point occurred when census counts showed and anglers' anecdotal evidence suggested that a fishing moratorium was needed to save the dwindling species. A five-year moratorium that began in 1985 restored balance.

The same was true 10 years later, when a declining migratory goose population was restored with a five-year hunting moratorium.

On the other side of the coin, the vast majority of Marylanders refused to get sucked into the recent debate and court challenge involving the state program to rid the Chesapeake Bay of thousands of nuisance mute swans.

And when deer all but moved into the family guest room and made a mess of shrubs and cars a decade ago, suburbanites saw nothing wrong with the Department of Natural Resources liberalizing bag limits to thin the herd.

My guess is black bears will cease to be "majestic animals," in the words of the animal rights crowd, the instant there's a sighting by children waiting at a Montgomery County school bus stop.

At that point, there will be a boatload of news coverage and outraged parents demanding that somebody, somewhere protect the children and do something about those scary beasts.

But for now, the Humane Society of the United States can still generate "hundreds of calls," according to a report in The Sun, by taking out a full-page ad in this newspaper and urging people to call the governor's office and demand a halt to the fourth annual bear hunt. It begins tomorrow in Garrett and Allegany counties.

That's a far cry from the thousands of e-mailed comments the state got in 2003, when opening a bear season was in the discussion phase and the HSUS was trying to stop it.

The truth is, the people we pay to manage Maryland's wildlife are doing just that. Bear Country (pop. 500) is blessed with good habitat and the community grows by about 10 percent a year. Hunting and collisions with vehicles kill about 100 animals each year.

A spokesman for Martin O'Malley told The Sun that the governor has no intention of stopping the hunt.

The HSUS fared no better when it paid for billboards on the Eastern Shore this summer calling for an end to the mute swan program. In fact, the way the eradication program is going, the point, thankfully, soon will be mute, er, moot.

Little by little, the animal rights crowd is running out of cuddly-wuddly forest creatures to put on coffee cups and posters. No one is going to plunk down cash for a sweat shirt with an orange-toothed, rat-like nutria on it - well, I might.

It's the prospect of donations that drives things like the swan and bear campaigns. In 2005, the group took in almost $117 million, spent nearly $12 million to raise it and paid out $10 million for "campaigns, legislation and litigation," according to its IRS filing.

Wayne Pacelle, who "leads nearly 10 million members and constituents," according to his blog, makes more than $200,000 in his role as HSUS president and CEO. Michael Markarian, former head of the Fund for Animals who became an HSUS executive vice president when the two organizations merged, makes more than $145,000.

You could hire a bunch of DNR wildlife biologists for that kind of dough.

The HSUS is to be commended for its efforts to stop cockfighting, puppy mills and cruelty to horses. It writes checks to support animal shelters and rescue programs across the country and stepped up big-time to assist overwhelmed shelters after Hurricane Katrina.

But that's not enough, apparently. The national group feels the need to flex its muscle locally with swans and bears and make a fuss over hunting, a perfectly legal activity.

It's that kind of "we know better than locals" attitude that annoyed state Sen. George Edwards, who represents the western-most portion of Maryland. Twice he introduced tongue-in-cheek legislation to require bears in all 23 Maryland counties.

The HSUS leadership seems mighty picky about which critters to defend and which ones to ignore. You don't see the group taking up the cause of the poor Eastern Shore nutria or Potomac River snakeheads or Baltimore rats. Aren't those animals worth protecting, too?

Come to think of it, the group hasn't said a peep about deer hunting in quite some time.

The tipping point on black bears is near as Bear Country expands. The big fur balls have been spotted ambling in Frederick County and there has been a sighting or two in Montgomery. You have to believe the woods of Carroll County and the reservoirs in Baltimore County are prime bruin real estate.

The HSUS will have to hustle if it's going to squeeze a few more dollars and headlines out of the cubs. Maybe Pacelle will borrow from that famous 1973 National Lampoon magazine cover with the picture of an adorable black-and-white pup and the headline: "If you don't buy this magazine, we'll kill this dog."

Unfortunately for Pacelle, when it comes to bears in Maryland, that dog won't hunt anymore.

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