- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Wildlife hunters are to be feared more than Maryland's expanding population of black bears, according to most of the testimony yesterday to the Environmental Committee of the House of Delegates.
"Hunting season does put a stop to our trips to Western Maryland," said Carol Elsman McCormick, an elementary school teacher living in Rockville. "We are too afraid of having an encounter with a hunter who may mistake us for wildlife, or who might shoot at wildlife only to have his bullet end up going astray and hitting one of us."
"I can't safely go on my own property now," said Steven J. Kansteroom, of Ashton. "I have hunters coming onto my property."
McHenry resident George Falter Jr. said: "I am not afraid of bears, but I sure won't take my grandchildren in the woods during hunting season."
Mr. Falter said he has lived in Garrett County for 40 years, but he was born and reared in East Baltimore, "So I know what danger is."
But some Western Maryland residents, frightened by encounters with bears, testified yesterday in support of bear hunts, which have been banned since 1953.
Robert O'Brien, 33, of Garrett County where many of the black bears live recounted an incident when a bear entered his house while a babysitter was tending his four children. The bear took a 50-pound box of confectionery wafers back to the woods, then returned to grab a loaf of bread.
"I'm not a redneck that just picks up a gun and shoots it," said Mr. O'Brien, who is in favor of legislation that would set up a lottery for experienced hunters to kill about 25 adult male bears in October.
Michael A. Lasher of Cresaptown said he was dressing a deer that he shot with a bow and arrow in 1999 on Danns Mountain in Allegany County, when a black bear interrupted. The bear would not leave until scared away by three gunshots.
"The incident that I personally experienced, along with the other incidents that I have mentioned, clearly show that the bear population in Western Maryland is becoming more aggressive. Their fear of humans has become diminished. They are now seeing humans as a possible food source," he said.
Others testified about extending the deer-hunting season to include three Sundays, to try to curb the wildlife, which is rapidly encroaching on metropolitan areas.
Most of those who testified yesterday opposed Sunday hunting because they said that is the only time during the hunting season that hikers, bikers, wildlife watchers, horse riders and others enjoying recreation can feel safe outdoors.
They suggested that instead of killing troublesome animals, they might be sedated and relocated into wilderness territories.
"In all my hikes, I have only seen two bears," said Lynda Cozart, an avid hiker on the Appalachian Trail and in national and state parks.
But around her home in Takoma Park, fruit trees have been cut down, a picnic table stolen and the house broken into.
"Let's send some of our population up to Garrett County and we'll take some of their bears," she said.
"I am opposed to anything that would wipe out the gains made since 1953 [when bears were nearly extinct]," said Mr. Falter, just "so a few hunters can have a trophy with big teeth to hang on the wall or use as a rug in front of the fireplace."

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