- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

A state-appointed Black Bear Task Force recently made a number of recommendations concerning the growing number of bruins in the western-most parts of Maryland and proper ways to deal with human/bear encounters.

Not long ago, it was as clear as a Garrett County trout stream that the only way to deal with a burgeoning bear population was to conduct a closely monitored hunting season, but that was before Gov. Parris N. Glendening and some of his Department of Natural Resources (DNR) underlings got into the act and figured the only way to come up with an equitable solution was to name a study group and be sure to appoint several animal rights activists to it. Get it? You're thinking of a bear hunt, so you want input from people who think more highly of animals than humans?

Here's hoping the new governor, Bob Ehrlich, will appoint new leadership at the DNR.

The Black Bear Task Force, meanwhile, said many of its recommendations were unanimous, while for others there was significant disagreement, so the group decided that a 60 percent majority would be necessary for a recommendation to be included in the draft report.

We applaud its members for saying that black bears are a valuable natural resource and that an effort should be made to conserve black bear habitat while bear populations should be maintained at levels compatible with land use and property concerns. But what bothers me greatly is a paragraph in the report that states, "The Black Bear Task Force realizes that hunting license revenues and federal excise taxes on sporting arms and ammunition provide the primary funding source for wildlife management in Maryland, but in the event that a regulated bear hunting program is not initiated, the task force recommends that the DNR change the classification of the black bear from a 'Game' to a 'Non-game' species. At the same time hunting license revenues should no longer be used as the primary funding source for bear management."

Like it or not, the seeds are already planted to make bear hunting a thing of the past, although the task force voted 6 to 4 to recommend "regulated hunting" as a tool to achieve a targeted population objective. It would have to conform to "fair chase" ethics, meaning no baiting, no dogs, and no spring hunting season.

The most controversial issue addressed by the task force was whether to allow black bear populations to reach biological carrying capacity, or to achieve a specific population objective through appropriate management strategies (which means hunting).

While the task force urges the DNR to establish a set of rules to handle various bear-vs.-human encounters, it also wants the DNR to conduct a public attitude survey to determine the perceptions, desires, and attitudes of people in Maryland.

What a lot of malarkey that is.

The people who deal with wild game should be trained wildlife biologists, not the general public that in many ways will approach wildlife management with emotion rather than established science. Hunters and most wildlife scientists fear the "Bambi Syndrome" that refers to animals being portrayed as having human behavior in the style of Walt Disney films.

The task force also encourages city and county governments to enact local ordinances to provide incentives for the use of bear-proof trash containers in residential areas, developments and tourist areas where bears have taken a liking to trash as a food source. It asks the state to provide 100 percent compensation for eligible bear damage claims. The task force wants the General Assembly to appropriate $50,000 annually to fund bear damage requests and, if necessary, use new funding avenues such as state lottery games or speeding ticket fines to pay for bear damages.

You have until Dec.13 to comment on this. Send an e-mail to [email protected] or write Black Bear Management Plan, P.O. Box 1138, Cumberland, Md., 21502.

About those fish refuges A year go, tidal Potomac River fish refuge areas were established in Gumtree Cove in Burgess Creek and near Linton Point in Chicamuxen Creek from March1 to June15. These refuges were established so that the Maryland fisheries people could assess the impacts of boating and fishing on largemouth bass spawning. They would compare such areas to other spawning sectors which remain open during this period. Because the two refuges were so poorly marked and frequently fished by bass boaters (as well as commercial netters after gizzard shad), biologists would like another opportunity to conduct the study while both areas are clearly marked with buoys. The closure would apply to all fishing and boating. Only individuals in canoes or kayaks would be allowed access to the Chicamuxen Wildlife Management Area on the Chicamuxen. A public hearing will be held on the proposal to re-establish the fish refuges, Tuesday, Dec17, 7p.m., at the Visitors Center in Cedarville State Forest on the Prince George's/Charles counties line. For directions, call 301/888-2423. Comments will be taken at the meeting, or may be sent to Steve Early, Restoration and Enhancement Division Director, at [email protected] Comments must be received by Jan.13, 2003.

Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected].

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