- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2001

A professor of emergency health services at the University of Maryland's Baltimore campus says a black bear hunting season for the westernmost counties of Maryland would be a bad idea. He says hunters might end up shooting one another instead of the bears, which in recent years have seen enough of a population increase to perhaps warrant a hunt at some future date.

What a caring individual.

Rick Bissell, Ph.D., recently filled half a newspaper page as the guest columnist of the Republican in Oakland, Md., and he wasted precious newsprint with an astonishing amount of malarkey and halfcocked suppositions concerning the state's resurgent black bear population. It makes one wonder just what the newspaper's editors did during their college journalism days when they should have acquired at least enough knowledge to look straight through the aims of animal rights advocates, which is to see all hunting stopped.

That's what Bissell is, an animal rightist, and not an eloquent one at that. Here's betting that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) would have loved to have the "doctor's" newspaper space to put its own spin on a bear hunting proposal that might become reality one day but not anytime soon.

(The increasing number of black bears in Garrett and Allegany counties has resulted in a number of complaints from apiarists who have seen their hives destroyed and farmers whose crops have been visited by the bruins, not to mention rural residents' complaints about the bears preference for certain garbage cans.)

In part, Bissell wrote, "[We should] ask the question of whether the proposed solution to people's fear of bears hunting is in fact more dangerous to humans than leaving the bears alone."

He went on to say that a hunting season would "undoubtedly decrease the bear population, but at what cost?" Bissell claims that in the nine years from 1990 to 1999, Marylanders suffered 289 hunting injuries that resulted in 18 deaths.

However, the professor is less than honest when he claims that gunshots can be blamed for the majority of hunting accidents.

The injuries he wrote of must be called hunting-related because most injuries and deaths during a hunt are caused by people falling from tree stands, having heart attacks because they weren't in good enough physical condition to withstand rigorous mountain hiking or taking unnecessary risks during extreme weather.

Yes, deaths from gunshots do occur, but they are fairly rare. Any life insurance company will tell you that. Recreational hunting ranks far down the list of dangerous activities, about 16th or 17th, with such "harmless" sports as fishing, touch football, mountain biking, roller blading and skiing rated far riskier.

Then Bissell came up with a cockamamie figure of the real cost to society when a person dies from a gunshot-related incident. He said the overall cost to society (victim, family and social system whatever that means) is $3,621,940 a death. The figure he quoted was provided by the Pacific Institute for Research and Analysis. It most likely concerned crime-related gun incidents, not hunting.

But when Bissell wrote that it would be cheaper to reimburse farmers for crop damage when you consider that a hunter who dies while hunting a bear would cost society $3 million, the reasoning (if ever there was any) is so idiotic it defies sensible dialogue. How would you like to see what the wheels look like inside the head that sets this man's brain in motion?

"[The $3.6 million figure] is significantly greater than any money a hunting application fee would generate or the damage caused by the black bear population," he wrote. Somebody should point out to him that states do not have hunting seasons for wildlife species because they can make money from license sales. In fact, the suggestion is an insult to the biologists who measure the health, number and condition of wildlife species before they can be hunted. License sales hardly enter into the decision.

Bissel showed his true colors when he finished with a diatribe concerning deer hunters, trespassers on his own rural property and louts who ignore "Posted" signs on private lands. "If bear hunters act with the same disregard for private property as deer hunters, innocent bystanders could be added to those injured in a hunting accident," he said.

Bissell added a Gov. Parris Glendening-like suggestion that "nonviolent" management techniques should be looked into to reduce public danger.

I am happy that Bissell is only a Ph.D. and not a medical doctor. Imagine what would happen if a bear hunter showed up at his practice with a splinter in his thumb. Oh, the consequences.

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