- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — A bill introduced yesterday would save the black bears of Western Maryland — by spreading them into every county of the state.

House Minority Leader George C. Edwards of Garrett County offered the modest proposal in part to highlight differences between rural and suburban parts of the state.

For years, Mr. Edwards and his Western Maryland colleagues have watched as lawmakers from suburban jurisdictions — such as Prince George’s and Montgomery counties — have tried to enact laws banning bear hunts.

“If these people want to tell us we have to live with the bears, they should be willing to accept the bears,” the Republican lawmaker said. “They can bring their charcoal grills and their bird feeders in every night. Fair is fair.”

His bill would require that black bears be trapped and released in other parts of the state, balancing Western Marylanders need to get rid of the bears with suburban Marylanders desire to protect the creatures.

If animal-loving lawmakers treasure the bears so much, Mr. Edwards reasons, let them have their own.

“Maybe, it’ll make a point,” he said, which is: “If you don’t want the state to use a limited hunt as a management tool, you should be willing to accept bears. And here’s your opportunity to do it.”

Until last year, Maryland upheld a longtime moratorium on black bear hunting.

Last fall, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials allowed the first black bear hunt in 51 years, in an effort to thin the populations in the mountains of Garrett and Allegany counties and to reduce human-bear conflicts. They set a kill limit of 30 bears and halted the hunt after 20 were killed in a single day.

A prolonged effort, led by Democrats from suburban Washington, failed to prevent the hunt.

Delegate Barbara Frush, Prince George’s County Democrat, last week introduced her second attempt to ban black bear hunting in Maryland.

So far, her bill has 24 co-sponsors.

Mr. Edwards’ push to disseminate the animals across Maryland is “ridiculous,” she said.

“I think it makes a mockery of what the real intent of my bill is,” Mrs. Frush said. “He’s trying to make fun of something that I, and others, feel is very important.”

Mrs. Frush was backed last year by the Fund for Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, groups that said state scientists had not proved that reducing the number of bears will reduce the number of conflicts with humans.

The Fund for Animals offered DNR $75,000 to stop the hunt. DNR declined the offer.

Still, the agency isn’t ready to begin trapping bears and shipping them down the mountain.

“It’s a point well taken,” said Mike Slattery, an assistant DNR secretary. “But it really is counterintuitive to our efforts to slow their expansion into unoccupied habitats in the state.”

DNR Secretary Ron Franks said Mr. Edwards’ bill is a sign of Western Marylanders’ frustration with the efforts to stop black bear hunting.

“I think it’s just to make a point that black bears in Western Maryland cause problems,” Mr. Franks said.

The proposal to spread the bears is a wildlife fairness issue, Mr. Edwards said. Lawmakers in suburban areas don’t have the real-life experiences with the enormous, sometimes threatening animals, he said.

Mrs. Frush, though, is skeptical of how often the Garrett County lawmaker has been threatened by black bears.

“George Edwards has never seen a bear,” Mrs. Frush said. “He’s told me that.”

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