Volume 12, Issue 39 ~ September 23-29, 2004
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Sport-Killing Maryland’s Black Bears
What Bill Burton Omitted — and What You Can Do
by E. Joseph Lamp

What Bay Weekly columnist Bill Burton didn’t say in “I Can Bear-ly Contain Myself” (Vol. XII, No. 36: Sept. 2) could fill volumes.

As a volunteer, governor-appointed member of Department of Natural Resources citizen’s advisory group, the Wildlife Advisory Commission, informing the public is my job. While Bill questioned my right to testify before the legislature against this hunt as a commissioner, I was doing that job by telling the public and our legislators the truth. I spoke for myself then, as I do now.

Here’s the real story behind this bear hunt.

To open up a generalized bear hunt this year — the first in over 50 years — allowing hunters to shoot 30 bears in Western Maryland, DNR has no scientific evidence of need. Instead, it offers lots of ‘I think-isms,’ backed up with desire.

Let me show you that what I say is true.

Using DNR’s own data collected from 1997 to 2000 (the last data given to commissioners), I compiled bear complaints coming mainly from citizens of Western Maryland. Of the 1,782 complaints, the overwhelming majority were: bears and trash (39 percent), seeing bears (19 percent) and bears in birdfeeders (10 percent).

Way down at the bottom of the list were concerns of the farmers such as bears damaging corn fields (four percent), bears in beehives (two percent) and bears harming poultry (.5 percent).

All of these problems have non-lethal answers allowing the majority of bears and humans to co-exist in the same environment. Is randomly killing 30 bears going to keep the other bears from raiding a trash can or munching from a bird feeder? We know the answer here.

When rogue black bears cause difficulties that cannot be controlled by non-lethal techniques, trained DNR staff have the authority and the skill to euthanize these rogue bears.

Nor do you need to be a logician to understand that bear hunting in our bordering states makes no argument for bear hunting in Maryland. They have thousands of black bears compared to our small number of 266 to 437 or so bears that DNR says are out there.

Still, the experience of one nearby state, New Jersey, can be illuminating. Hunters there killed a total of 326 bears. According to outdoor writer Candus Thomson of the Baltimore Sun, game records showed that 63 percent were females, 25 percent were cubs less than a year old and 10 percent were between one and two years. This can easily be the case here, as killing cubs and sows is also allowed by DNR for Maryland’s upcoming bear hunt.

If there’s no scientific evidence in favor of hunting bear in Maryland, why are we going forward?

Hunters wanting to put a bullet or an arrow in a black bear and get a trophy are the real reason for this hunt. The majority of DNR’s funding for wildlife-related management comes from the sale of hunting licenses, currently going for $24.50. Over 1,800 hunters have already applied for a bear-hunting permit at the cost of an additional $15 for a chance to win one of 200 bear hunting permits.

Back in early 2000, the Maryland Sportsmen’s Association, along with the Maryland Bowhunters Society and the Washington County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, sent letters to the commission requesting that DNR open up bear hunting in Western Maryland.

It took a new administration and a few more years of lobbying, but the pro-hunting forces are finally on course. In addition, the hunters now have a voice in Annapolis with the organization of legislators into the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus.

DNR and our governor most recently ignored the mandate of the democratic process in Annapolis, when state legislators on the Administrative Executive and Legislative Review Committee charged with reviewing state regulations voted 12–7 against allowing DNR to hold this bear hunt.

I have long supported DNR. I’ve testified and argued many times on their behalf. I’ve written numerous white papers on wildlife-related issues as a commissioner, volunteering hundreds of hours of my time and missing only one meeting in over six years.

But when DNR is flat out wrong, they need be told, and you, the public, need to know. That’s my volunteer job, and I take it very seriously.

Now what can you do?

Call Gov. Robert Ehrlich at 410-974-3901 and say no to this hunt. Tell others to call, too, and do it now. Bears can’t speak for themselves, and the hunt starts soon.

Otherwise, at least 30 bears will lose their lives because we did not stand up for them. These bears don’t deserve to die in the name of recreational opportunity for hunters.

Thank you for reading the other side of the story. As Bill might say, “Enough said.”

Dr. Lamp is a college professor teaching survey research.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.