- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

FLINTSTONE, Md. Compromise legislation that would let landowners kill nuisance bears satisfied neither pro-hunting nor anti-hunting members of Maryland's Black Bear Task Force meeting yesterday in Western Maryland.
Some hunting advocates said the bill passed Friday by the House of Delegates falls short of what's needed to control the growing and increasingly troublesome bear population in Garrett and western Allegany counties.
"It doesn't resolve anything. It's not constructive," said Lee Omansky of the Allegany-Garrett Sportsmen's Association.
Hunting opponents said landowner permits to kill property-damaging bears would create a de facto bear season at the expense of public safety.
"If my grandchildren are visiting, what happens if they are mistaken for a nuisance bear?" said George Falter, a task force member who lives near Deep Creek Lake.
The measure, House Bill 10, is a weakened version of the original bill. It would have established Maryland's first bear-hunting season since 1949. The Senate has yet to act on a bear-hunting bill.
Natural resources managers pegged the state's bear population last year at 327, up 64 percent from an estimated 200 in 1990. About two-thirds of them live west of Cumberland, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
Bear nuisance complaints have skyrocketed from 34 in 1990 to 534 in 2000, largely reflecting residential development in prime bear habitat around Deep Creek Lake.
The bear bills in the General Assembly reflect growing pressure from residents in far Western Maryland who increasingly encounter the animals in their trash, livestock pens, yards and even homes.
The 12-member Black Bear Task Force is charged with making recommendations to the DNR for a new 10-year management plan. Chairman Thomas P. Mathews, a retired state game program manager, said it could take the panel six months to a year to produce its report.
Maryland Sportsmen's Association representative Thomas Rooney of Westminster said the weakened bear hunt bill reflects "the political pressures exerted on politicians by constituents who do and do not understand all the problems with bears in Western Maryland."
Animal welfare advocate Michael Markarian of the Fund for Animals said the proposed permit program was part of "an all-out assault on Maryland's wildlife and Maryland's citizens."
The task force devoted yesterday's meeting, its second, to refining its mission statement and brainstorming issues to be ranked and discussed in future sessions.

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