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Volume 13, Issue 49 ~ December 8 - December 14, 2005

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

Debating the Bear Hunt

There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is in trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.

–Alfred North Whitehead

A few weeks back in the Commentary segment of this newspaper, E. Joseph Lamp of Arnold expressed some curious thoughts about the black bear situation in Western Maryland. Upon reading Joe’s comments, I thought of Alfred North Whitehead’s observations concerning trying to treat half truths as whole truths.

Joe, I know well. We have called, faxed, e-mailed and talked face-to-face at various times for more than a decade; and I have covered as a newspaperman more than a few meetings of the Maryland Wildlife Advisory Commission, of which he has been a member for some time.

Joe was one of the first animal-rights activists appointed to an advisory post on any state wildlife group across the nation. His appointment by Gov. Parris Glendening raised many an eyebrow in the hunter community; nimrods griped that the anti-hunter governor was planting a fox in the chicken house.

Overall, Joe’s heart-on-his-sleeve approach to some important widlife matters has been an asset to the commission. He has represented his humane constituents capably, and at times reminded them how the other half lives. Sometimes he appears to understand the basic concepts of sound wildlife management, other times not.

But he can sure undercut the trained professionals, and with the usual smile on his face. And worrisome at times is his sentiment-over-science approach to wildlife management. He appears to think that widlife is something akin to Bambi.

You know, a fawn prances about, eats and rests well with no problems that can’t be solved. When the time comes to go to the big forests in the sky where the acorns, soy beans and corn are abundant, the older Bambi goes off to some secluded nook, lies down and goes to sleep.

Ah, if only things were like that. But that’s not reality, and that’s a concept Joe sometimes doesn’t seem to grasp — despite the monthly lessons administered by his colleagues on the commission and the wildlife professionals who appear before the commission to present their cases for sound management of wildlife and its habitat.

Parsing Part-Truths

As we wade into half-truths and the devil, perhaps it’s appropriate that we start off with Joe’s standard opening in his communications with this and other newspapers, usually in letters to the editor.

He usually introduces himself as a member of the Wildlife Advisory Commission, then tears apart his fellow commissioners and the professional wildlife managers and scientists who shepherd our state’s resources. He fails to mention he is not speaking for the Commission or Maryland Department of Natural Resources but as a private citizen and a decided minority on the commission at that. Mark up a half-truth.

Joe wrote he had followed the black bear issue for over a decade, and DNR “had not one iota of scientific evidence supporting the need for a bear hunt.” He can’t even score a half-truth for this statement. Two bear committees appointed by Gov. Glendening — who made it known he was against bear hunting in Maryland — proposed a bear hunt after months of study and deliberations.

Meanwhile, all scientific evidence available indicated the bear population was growing too fast. This was based on bear damages, bear sightings, highway kills, nuisance claims and reports of Western Maryanders harassed by bruins outside their homes, occasionally even entering their homes and outbuildings. Some residents feared allowing their children outside to play. All of this was meticulously recorded by DNR’s professional staff and documented in DNR and committee reports.

Next Joe griped that DNR’s assessment of the bear population was in a range of between 266 and 437 bears. He asks “How’s that for exactness?”

Methinks one who has been on a wildlife advisory commission for a number of years should appreciate that taking a census of wildlife is an inexact science. Bears are not usually in their dens when the census taker comes to call. Populations are assessed on many standards, from damage claims and road kills to sightings and nuisance reports.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the commissioner’s thinking is his reminder that one of his allies, the Humane Society of the U.S., last year offered to pay DNR $75,000 to cover bear damage claims if there was no hunt. That borders on bribery: offering an arm of state government a fairly nice sum to implement a policy contrary to sound scientific management.

Do we want to set that precedent? Anyone or any organization can ante up and expect DNR to accommodate their wishes. In this country, those who offer and those who accept go to jail. Management of wildlife cannot be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

A bribe to halt a hunt would only heighten the basic problem in the long run. It would put off the inevitable: too many bears for their habitat. The time would come when bear damages were far out of control, and many more than 41 bears would have to be killed. DNR is acting now to avoid a repeat of the whitetail deer situation.

Again, it would appear, despite all the scientific background made available to the commissioners, that Joe did not do his homework. DNR decided to hold a highly restrictive hunt for several reasons, among them to thin the bear population to keep it within reasonable boundaries and to inspire bears with fear — or at least reluctance — to mingle among the human population.

Joe suggests non-lethal approaches to bear problems. Does he realize the only realistic path to a non-lethal solution is to trap and send the bears elsewhere? But who wants them? The developed habitat more to the east in Maryland isn’t suitable. No other state wants ’em, they already have enough bear problems and are liberalizing their own bear-hunting regulations.

Come on, Joe

In his obstructive anti-hunter campaign, Joe does a disservice to his commission, DNR and Marylanders who have to live with marauding bears. So much so that perhaps the time has come when he should either step down from his post or make his arguments within the commission — and accept that majority and science must rule.

I do hope he takes the latter course and keeps his arguments in-house, or at least refrains in the future from playing his “I’m a wildlife advisory commissioner” card when he is speaking not for the commisssion, but for himself.

Enough said.

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