- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Legislators hearing testimony on Maryland’s black-bear hunt made a largely symbolic vote yesterday to halt the measure, just as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s spokesman said that the governor likely would approve the hunt anyway.

The decision about whether to allow hunters to kill 30 bears in Western Maryland in October and December ultimately rests with Mr. Ehrlich, who must approve the measure formally now that the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review has registered its disapproval.

But leaders of the animal rights group Fund for Animals said they will consider suing the state if Mr. Ehrlich doesn’t call off the hunt, which would be the first black-bear hunt in 51 years.

“If we can get it defeated and pulled back, that’s OK too,” said Delegate Barbara Frush, Prince George’s County Democrat, who testified against the hunt and proposed legislation this year that would have imposed a moratorium until the state knows exactly how many bears live in Western Maryland.

The joint-committee members voted 12-7 against the state’s measures to approve the hunt. Several legislators were absent from yesterday’s hearing and cast votes by phone.

About 70 animal-rights activists cheered and applauded as the votes were counted, and they congratulated Michael Markarian, president of Fund for Animals, as they filed out of the hearing room.

Still, the committee doesn’t have the authority to stop the hunt, which is tentatively set for Oct. 25 to 30 and Dec. 6 to 11.

“There were no arguments today that haven’t been heard before,” said Paul Schurick, Mr. Ehrlich’s spokesman. “Barring some material change in the science, I don’t believe the governor would reverse his decision.”

The Department of Natural Resources hasn’t formally adopted regulations for the hunt, which the agency hopes would reduce human-bear conflicts in the mountains of Garrett and Allegany counties, and help curb the spread of black bears into central and eastern Maryland. The agency estimates that there are about 400 bears in Maryland, mostly in the western counties.

The Fund for Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, whose leaders also testified yesterday, maintain that state scientists haven’t proved that reducing the number of bears will reduce the number of conflicts with humans. Leaders of the two organizations argue that hunting the animals could make them more likely to encounter people, as younger males left on their own expand their range and cause problems at homes, campsites and farms.

“It’s up to this committee to rein in this rogue agency,” Mr. Markarian said. “Science does not justify hunting bears for trophies.”

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