Bear season again met with opposition

Anne Arundel CC professor leads fight to close down annual hunt

October 24, 2011|By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

Dawn over Western Maryland will break differently Monday for the 260 hunters who won the lottery to participate in this year's annual bear hunt. The adrenaline will be high, the air thick with the anticipation of trying to become the first man, woman or even child to kill one of the approximately 55 to 80 bears the state Department of Natural Resources anticipates will be roaming the region.

More than 100 miles to the southeast, Dr. Joe Lamp will be standing out on Route 2 and College Parkway, close to his home in Arnold, holding a stuffed bear and a handmade sign imploring Gov. Martin O'Malley to shut down what Lamp and officials at the Humane Society of the United States believe is nothing more than what they call a "trophy hunt."

For Lamp, a communications professor at Anne Arundel Community College and a member of the state's Wildlife Advisory Commission since 1998, his protest has become a yearly ritual, one he says will continue after he leaves the governor-appointed panel in about a month. He is the longest-standing member of the commission.

At times, it has been a one-man crusade, though Lamp seems confident that might finally be changing.

"I would say definitely I'm the lone voice [of dissent] — and clearly the loudest," said Lamp, 62, who was appointed to the commission by Gov. Parris N. Glendening six years before bear hunting was reinstituted in Maryland. It had been held up through 1953.

Lamp's passion for animal rights dates to the 1970s, when he developed a friendship with American zoologist Diane Fossey, who worked to save gorillas in Africa until she was murdered in 1985. Locally, Lamp played an active role in helping shut down a proposed deer hunt at Sandy Point State Park in 1996.

Lamp said he can gauge from the reaction by passing motorists that his feelings about bear hunting are not far from the mainstream.

"I will probably get far more high-fives than people who'll be going like that," Lamp said, demonstrating an obscene gesture. "I'll get a few of those, but they'll probably be in a truck. One guy going down College Parkway stuck his head out the window and he almost ran into a ditch, he was so mad at me."

Lamp said the formation of a political action committee two years ago has helped "resurrect" interest among those in favor of closing down the bear hunt. According to Lamp, there are now "several thousand" members of the group, Maryland Votes for Animals, but he said the group's hot-button issue has to do with the spaying and neutering of dogs and cats, not the killing of bears.

Sitting at the kitchen table of his home, with neatly arranged piles of folders documenting his fight, Lamp pulls out a paper that outlines what he believes is the most significant reason for the continuation of the bear hunt: the nearly $5 million in state revenue generated annually by hunting licenses and the nearly $2 million in federal aid for wildlife restoration.

"It's very ironic to me that as soon as Governor Glendening left office and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost to Bob Ehrlich, we needed a bear hunt," Lamp said. "You now have several thousand people applying for licenses, and it's well less than 3 percent of the overall population who are hunters. The hunters are the ones controlling the DNR, and they're the ones being catered to. This isn't rocket science; this is how it works."

Maryland sells more than 120,000 hunting licenses a year.

"The thing to realize is that in Maryland, anyone at any age can get a hunting license; all you have to do is pass the test," Lamp said. "You can go out with a high-powered hunting rifle as a 7-year-old, but the same kid would have to be watched and supervised inside the house. It's kind of a bizarre thing."

Andrew Page, director of wildlife issues for the Humane Society of the United States, said Maryland's bear hunt is as much about ego for the hunters as it is about money for the politicians.

"It's providing an opportunity for a few individuals to go out and collect a bear so they can hang a head on their wall or a bearskin rug on their floor," Page said. "That's the difference. There's a lot of tools for the department to use to manage bears; bear hunting is not one of them."

But Harry Spiker, the state's bear biologist since 2001, disagrees, saying that most of the bears killed during the state's controlled hunt are younger and smaller.

"If it was a trophy hunt, they'd be holding out for that 400- or 500-pound bear," Spiker said.

Spiker points to the fact that the sows in Maryland give birth as much as two years before their West Coast counterparts, and that reproductive rates of bears in the Appalachian region are "among the highest in the country". Also, the woods of Western Maryland have become more densely populated with black bears than the woods of any of the neighboring states.

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