Some states are fascinated by black bears

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Why is it that small middle Atlantic states are so fascinated with black bears? They are, after all, not nearly in the same league as larger states where wild bruins are part of the landscape.

In New Jersey, the Safari Club International and the New Jersey State Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs Inc. have filed suit to force action on black bear management.

The New Jersey hunters are ticked off at New Jersey’s Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection because he has refused to approve a new comprehensive black bear management policy that includes hunting as a management strategy. There can be no bear hunt unless an official bear policy is in place even if the state’s wildlife managers say that a hunt is the best way to manage these resourceful, occasionally dangerous, animals.

Apparently, New Jersey is seeing more bears these days, most likely spillovers from the adjoining Keystone State, Pennsylvania, where bears are a part of life. Now some of the bears have become a nuisance, yet there is great opposition to slowing down the growing population.

In Maryland, another state that most likely received visits from Pennsylvania and West Virginia bears that eventually stayed, the little state agonized for years about its rather tiny bear “problem,” which was noticed only in the two western-most counties, Garrett and Allegany.

Eventually — much to the chagrin of animal rights activists — the state agreed to remove a small number of bears. Hunters would do the job and even though the number of permits allotted was small by any measure, it was hoped the western mountain residents would ease up on their complaints about trashcan-raiding, fruit orchard-robbing nuisance bears.

This year, 3,608 Maryland hunters applied for a permit to shoot one of no more than 85 bears that the state said could be “harvested.” It’s the “harvest” word used by wildlife managers that drives me crazy. Corn, wheat and soy beans are harvested; hunted bears are shot.

Either way, 552 hunters were picked in a lottery of applicants; 68 bears were killed, 60 of them in Garrett County, 8 In Allegany County. The hunt now has been stopped because the state’s Department of Natural Resources feels it has attained its goal to control the bears in that region.

Harry Spiker, Game Mammal Section Leader for DNR’s Wildlife & Heritage Service, said, “The 2009 bear hunt was an unqualified success. Despite marginal weather conditions most of the week, our harvest range of 60-85 bears was met in four days. The hunt remains a safe, effective, well-regulated and scientifically sound tool for sustainably managing our bear population.”

Meanwhile, New Jersey cannot have a black bear hunt. According to the prestigious and usually very influential Safari Club International, the state’s inaction has lead to a drastic increase in bear incidents state-wide since the last bear hunt that was held in 2005.

And in such bear-rich eastern states as Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, the game managers and hunters are shaking their heads wondering what all the fuss is about. They shoot bears by the hundreds, sometimes over a thousand, and the animals are doing fine. Black bears are not about to disappear. Ask the folks in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Montana, Idaho or Wyoming.

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