- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Supporters of a bill to postpone the state’s first bear hunting season in more than 50 years said the plan was a “smoke screen” created so gun enthusiasts could kill big game.

“There has never been an [unprovoked] attack in the state,” Michael Markarian, president of the Fund for Animals, said at a hearing on a House bill to delay the proposed September hunt for six years. “The answer is not to let people with modern weapons and firearms” hunt bear.

He also said the rising bear population, particularly in Western Maryland, can be controlled in a more humane way and that most bears pose no threat to humans.

Mr. Markarian was among about 130 people who attended the hearing in support of the House bill and against the hunt.

Though no residents testified in support of the state Department of Natural Resources’plan for the first black bear hunt in Maryland in roughly 50 years, many residents in Western Maryland favor such a hunting season because the bears come into their neighborhoods, eat out of their trash cans and destroy bird feeders while searching for food.

The agency announced the hunt in October and said about 30 bears would be killed during the season.

Paul Peditto, director of the state’s Wildlife and Heritage Service, said the hunt was necessary because the increasing bear population also increases the threat of attacks.

The service said the state has about 400 black bears, including about 300 in Western Maryland. In 1956, the statewide bear population had fallen to 12.

“No one will argue that bears are overpopulated by any means,” Mr. Markarian said. But the state “does not have the scientific data to justify a bear hunt at this time.”

The bill is sponsored by Delegate Barbara Frush, Princes George’s Democrat, who said yesterday that incidents involving bears could be avoided by not having bird feeders and using waste containers that lock.

George Falter Jr., 69, a retiree from Garrett County, said the hunters, not the bears, concern him the most.

“I live where the bears reside and, more importantly, where the hunters hunt,” he said. “It’s a safety issue for me, my wife, my kids and my grandchildren. My kids come to visit me on my 15 acres where they hunt, and I have to worry about them being shot. I’ve only seen three bears in all my years in Garrett County, but I’ve got bullet holes in my [satellite] dish and my deck.”

Ann Selnick, the president of Animal Advocates of Howard County, said hunters are a small part of the state population but their desires are being considered over those in the majority.

Patrick Curtin, 50, of Rockville agreed that bears posed little danger to area residents.

“I’m an animal lover,” he said. “My concern is this: Are the bears a danger to us, or are we a danger to the bears? The answer is obvious. There are many other humane ways to control the population other than hunting.”

Animal-rights activists also called the hunt a political payoff from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, to the gun groups that supported his gubernatorial campaign two years ago.

Shareese DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in response that Mr. Ehrlich has not intervened and is leaving the issue to the scientists and wildlife officials to decide whether a hunt is needed.

“This is about science,” she said. “The governor hasn’t felt pressure from hunters or any other interest groups and certainly would not, for lack of a better term, fall prey to pressure.”

• This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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