- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2001

Rural homeowners and farmers in Western Maryland, fighting off a black bear population explosion and weary of waiting for the state to take action, are taking aim at the problem themselves.
"People are taking the 'three S approach," said Garrett County Commissioner Wendell Beitzel. "Shoot, shovel and shut up."
Biologists say the bear population, thanks to the states ban on hunting bears, is now about 400, compared with less than 200 a decade ago and up from an estimated low of 20 in 1953. The encroaching bears, Western Maryland residents say, arent afraid of humans and are stealing garbage, killing dogs and breaking into sheds, garages and even homes.
Longtime residents say the potential for tragedy is high, especially with city dwellers headed for vacation hot spots like Deep Creek Lake — where bear sightings are up dramatically, especially along Rock Lodge Road near the tiny town of McHenry in Garrett County.
"Itll kill you over a candy bar. It wants food," said area bowhunter Doug Oxford. "My concern is, somebodys going to get killed. Itll be some kid walking around with a sandwich in his hand."
"Im just seeing more and more of these things out there, and its frightening," he said.
Mr. Oxford said he spotted 37 bears while out hunting last season, between September and December. Five years ago he spotted one every so often by the side of the road. Western Maryland residents say the state needs to resurrect a bear-hunting season, something Maryland hasnt had since 1953 — and an idea firmly opposed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Maryland Delegate George Edwards, a Garrett County Republican, said residents need to be able to protect themselves because the state isnt taking the problem seriously enough.
"Its to the point where people wont even call the [state Department of Natural Resources] anymore," he said.
Maryland Natural Resources Secretary Sarah Taylor-Rogers has ruled out a bear-hunting season before the fall of 2002.
In making the announcement last year, Mrs. Taylor-Rogers said, "Even in Garrett County, where we have the largest population of bear, it has been made known to me that even people out there are somewhat divided on whether to have a hunt."
"We dont feel its really necessary," said Steve Bittner, a state forest game biologist.
"Even though youre killing bears, theres no guarantee youre killing the bears causing problems," he said.
Mr. Bittner said other states that allow hunts still have their share of bear-human encounters.
His department prefers to trap, drug and tag the animals. Bears are then conditioned with "aversion techniques" — shot with buckshot, startled with firecrackers — in an effort to keep them fearful of humans.
State biologists say they can offer tips to state residents who want to bear-proof their homes and yards, and the state goes even further for farmers and beekeepers. Farmers who lose crops to bears can apply to the state for reimbursement, paid for from sales of a bear conservation stamp. And Maryland will provide electric fencing for beekeepers.
"They want to manage these animals in a very warm, fuzzy, huggy way," said Steve Palmer, president of the Washington County Federation of Sportsmens Clubs.
He and other sportsmen are frustrated by the states reluctance to allow hunters to play a role in addressing a growing problem. "Hunting, fishing and trapping are proven wildlife management tools," he said.
The resurgence of the the black bear, according to the Department of Natural Resources, could be due to the gradual improvement of wetlands and forests following decades of unregulated tree-cutting and habitat destruction prior to the early 1900s.
Also, the bear population has had time to recover since the last hunt, and many are getting chased out of neighboring West Virginia and Pennsylvania by hunters in those states.
Now is the time of year when black bears are most active. During the summer, older males will wander long distances in search of a mate.
Also, young bears are chased away from their mothers to find a home of their own.
The creatures have no predators in Maryland — except cars and trucks.
Last year, a pickup truck hit a bear as it tried to cross the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in Anne Arundel County. Some workmen sparked Bigfoot rumors in that same area last summer, but all they spotted was a black bear, state wildlife officials said.
Mr. Edwards said folks are constantly asking him whats being done.
"Everywhere I go its, 'Whats going on with the bears? and 'When are they going to do something?" he said.
The lawmaker recounted one recent story reported in the Oakland Republican newspaper in which a bear broke into a home through a window, broke the faucet and flooded the floor.
Mr. Edwards has seen just one bear himself. The creature tried to crawl over the guardrail along Interstate 68.
"This was a huge bear," he said. "Just looked at us."


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