- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. held firm yesterday on plans to continue with the state’s first bear hunt in more than 50 years, despite pressure from three congressmen from Maryland.

He received a letter March 31 from U.S. Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin, Chris Van Hollen and Elijah E. Cummings, Democrats, opposing the hunt and asking the governor to cancel it.

However, Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, says he will allow scientists and wildlife officials to decide whether a hunt is needed, said Shareese DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for the governor.

“Right now, science dictates that there is a need for a hunt to manage the population,” she said.

The congressmen told Mr. Ehrlich and Department of Natural Resources Secretary C. Ronald Franks that the hunt would further decimate Maryland’s already-small bear population.

Animal-rights activists say the hunt is a political payoff from Mr. Ehrlich to gun groups that supported his gubernatorial campaign in 2002.

Miss DeLeaver said those accusations are “absolutely ridiculous and unfounded.”

The congressmen call the upcoming black bear hunt a “shortsighted” solution to eliminating human run-ins with nuisance bears.

Susan Sullam, Mr. Cardin’s press secretary, said the congressman “would like to see more studies done before a hunt.”

“The bear population is relatively small,” she said. “And [pursuing] nonlethal alternatives would be a better first step.”

The Department of Natural Resources announced the hunt in October and said about 30 bears would be killed.

The hunt is scheduled to take place in Garrett and Allegany counties in two six-day periods — Oct. 25 to 30 and Dec. 6 to 11. However, it will end as soon as hunters kill 30 bears.

The congressmen’s letter said previous hunts had decimated the state’s black bear population.

Maryland’s bear population is estimated at 266 to 437, mostly in Western Maryland, say DNR officials. The statewide population dropped to 12 in 1956.

A bill sponsored by Delegate Barbara Frush, Prince George’s Democrat, prohibits the DNR from establishing an open season to hunt black bears until July 2010.

Western Maryland residents have complained of bears coming into their neighborhoods, eating out of their trash cans and destroying bird feeders while searching for food.

Mrs. Frush said incidents involving bears could be avoided by removing bird feeders and using waste containers that lock.

A black bear caught in Cecil County was put to death March 24 by state biologists who said the bear was potentially dangerous because it showed no fear of humans.

The 325-pound bear had been tagged by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and was identified as having killed a goat in Bucks County, Pa., agency officials said.

The state has held hunts to reduce the populations of other nuisance animals.

State officials reported that Maryland hunters took 87,223 deer during the 2003-04 season. The harvest figures represent a decline from the 2002-03 total of 94,114.

In August, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave Maryland permission to shoot an additional 525 mute swans, a bird that officials blame for widespread damage to the Chesapeake Bay.

State officials shot about 100 swans last April before a lawsuit brought by the Fund for Animals and several Eastern Shore residents forced a temporary halt to the program.

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