What Bill Burton Omitted: The Other Side
by E. Joseph Lamp
Bay Weekly’s columnist Bill Burton has spun another lopsided wildlife tale, (To Kill Or Not To Kill: Vol. xiii, No. 43: Oct. 27), using an old favorite with his hook-and-bullet following: killing animals to save them. As a member of the Wildlife Advisory Commission of the Department of Natural Resources, let me tell you what Bill left out.
Bill implies there are too many black bears in Maryland. Because the bears’ need for food and habitat exceed availability, he supported DNR’s recent bear hunt in Western Maryland.
I have followed the Maryland black bear issue for over a decade. DNR had not one iota of scientific evidence supporting a need for this recent bear hunt. How many bears are even in Maryland exceeding their habitat requirements? Last evidence DNR presented to Wildlife Advisory Commission was a range of between 266 and 437 bears. That’s plus or minus 171 bears. How’s that for exactness? Were they starving? No evidence of that was ever presented or implied by anybody.
Then Bill highlights black-bear-nuisance issues, increasing bear-vehicle collision concerns and farm predation problems bears cause. Here’s what he left out.
Out of the 41 bears killed in the recent hunt, only six were targeted as nuisance bears, that is bad bears. The rest of the bears lost their lives for the hunters’ fun of killing them and getting a trophy. All unnecessary.
DNR already has specialty staff, trained to respond to residents’ complaints about nuisance bears. They can either handle the specific black bear problem non-lethally or, if all else fails, exercise the authority to kill the errant bear. Hunters randomly killing Maryland’s black bears to solve this problem makes about as much sense as having police shoot into a crowd to kill bad guys.
As for bears crossing highways, Bill never tells us how killing 41 black bears will keep the rest of the bears from crossing the road and possibly becoming involved in a car crash. Clairvoyance?
To compensate for black bear predation on farms and to prevent bear hunting, last year the Humane Society of the United States offered to pay DNR $75,000, more than enough to cover the farmers’ claims for loses. Money left over could have been used for teaching residents how to live safely and in harmony with black bears. DNR refused.
Now for Maryland’s resident goose problem. Bill’s final verdict is this: “it is the humans on this earth, not the hunters, who have put us in the pickle we are in.” First, aren’t hunters also humans? But Bill doesn’t tell us how our resident geese got here to begin with. Here’s what I’ve learned being on DNR’s Wildlife Advisory Committee.
Hunters kept captive ancestors of these resident geese you see squatting on golf courses and filling up ponds. Hunters used the birds as live decoys to sucker-in migrating Canada geese for them to kill. In fact, up until the mid-’90s, East Coast waterfowl hunters killed so many migratory Canada geese especially in Maryland that they threatened extinction of the species. This was also big business for professional hunting guide services. DNR and the Fish and Wildlife Service had to step in and close down migratory goose hunting for many years, allowing the population to rebuild.
When hunting laws changed, disallowing live decoys, the captive geese were no more use to the hunters, so they let the geese go. By then, many had lost their way, possibly could not fly anymore, or were born here, having no clue how to migrate back to Canada.
No Bill, chalk up our resident goose problem to hunters, once again, the problem not the solution.
Finally, don’t get me started on how we wound up with such a huge deer population or why we have a nutria problem, with these imported animals allegedly eating away our Eastern Shore marshes. We can save that for another time.
E. Joseph Lamp, of Arnold, is an animal activist and professor of communications.