- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2001

A black bear that wandered into the Rockville area more than a month ago isn't going away, so city leaders are pushing Maryland officials to abandon their "Gentle Ben" bear management policy and remove the animal before someone gets hurt.
The bear, thought to be a 2-year-old male that got lost while seeking its home territory, is a nerve-racking sight to residents unaccustomed to predators in the neighborhood, city officials say.
It was most recently spotted Wednesday afternoon in western Rockville on Old Creek Court. Earlier in the week, it was sighted in the Rockmead and Fallsmead park areas, not far from an elementary school and housing developments.
Last month, a bear — thought to be the same one — walked in front of a nurse's car as she was driving through the emergency department parking lot at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.
"It would be better for residents and the bear if it is moved out of such a highly populated area," said Mayor Rose Krasnow, who has enlisted her district's state delegation to lobby for action.
"We are in daily contact with the [Maryland Department of Natural Resources] pushing the agency to take some action to move the bear to a safer environment," the mayor said.
Only Natural Resources is authorized to intervene when bears get too close to people. But the agency doesn't see a threat in this case with no injuries or property damage — and feels the bear will move on if left alone.
If a bear has "incidental contact" with humans, it does not constitute a public safety threat, according to state policy. Incidental contact is described as someone seeing a bear in the back yard and the bear running off.
"It hasn't been on porches. It hasn't raided trash cans," said Maryland game program manager Paul Peditto. And the creature isn't exactly wandering up to the Starbucks on bustling Rockville Pike, he added.
But "we empathize with folks who are nervous," Mr. Peditto said.
Bears that do cause a nuisance are trapped, tagged and conditioned with firecrackers and other methods in an effort to keep them fearful of humans. In extreme cases, bears are moved or euthanized.
Killing bears is illegal in Maryland, except when a person's life is threatened, or pets or livestock are threatened on their property.
Maryland's black bear population has grown in recent years and the animals are known to venture into the northern and western reaches of Montgomery County.
But "as far as I know, we have never had a bear in Rockville before this," said Assistant City Manager Catherine Tuck Parrish.
"We don't want this to be his new home," she said. "We certainly want our residents to feel safe."
Maryland's ground zero for bear sightings — and complaints — is in western Garrett and Allegany counties. Residents and local leaders there say encroaching bears aren't afraid of humans and are stealing garbage and breaking into sheds, garages, even homes.
Nuisance bears have become such a problem in the western counties that several lawmakers, including House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany Democrat, are calling for the first bear-hunting season since 1953.
Biologists recently conducted a survey of Maryland's black bear population and estimate about 327 live in the state, a 64 percent increase from 1990s' estimate of 200.
In 1990, biologists determined 15 percent to 25 percent of Maryland's bears lived outside of westernmost Garrett County. About 100 bears — or nearly one-third of the total — now live east of Cumberland, in Allegany County.
Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Sarah Taylor-Rogers last month announced a committee to review the black bear management plan, solicit public opinion and suggest recommendations.
Now is the time of year when black bears are most active. They breed in June and July, and older males will wander long distances in search of mates.
Young males are sent out to live on their own in the spring and sometimes wander into the suburbs as they seek to establish their own territory.
But they generally prefer to avoid humans.
Still, Rockville residents are urged to keep garbage lids tightly fastened and to bring bird feeders inside.
The city, meanwhile, is trying to keep litter cans in the park empty, and Dumpster areas and gates clean and closed.
Dan Vennetti said he's never seen much more than deer outside his home in Old Creek Court, where the bear was last spotted.
"It seems like it could be a problem with all the kids around," he said. "You see deer and stuff, but bears are a different story."
Walter McKee, another resident of Old Creek Court, said he's more fascinated by the bear than afraid.
"I assume it's not one that's going to knock the car over," he said.

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