- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2004

Animal-protection groups yesterday filed a petition asking for a court hearing to block Maryland’s first black-bear hunt in 51 years.

The petition for judicial review was filed in Prince George’s County Circuit Court in Upper Marlboro by the Fund for Animals, the Humane Society of the United States and three Maryland residents who own or will inherit property near the hunting sites.

The plaintiffs say the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) used faulty science in estimating the state’s black bear population at 500. They also say that the DNR decided to authorize a hunt before determining the public’s view of how bears should be managed.

“In their zeal to allow trophy hunters to kill bears for their heads and hides, Governor [Robert L.] Ehrlich [Jr.] and his DNR have thumbed their noses at the science, thumbed their noses at the wishes of Maryland citizens and thumbed their noses at Maryland law,” said Michael Markarian, president of the Fund for Animals in Silver Spring.

The 5-inch-thick petition asks the court to review and deny the new law that legalizes black bear hunting. The plaintiffs have asked for a hearing before Oct. 25, when the bear hunt is scheduled to begin in Garrett and Allegany counties.

The hunt is scheduled to end Oct. 30. If the limit of 30 bears have not been killed by that date, the hunt will resume from Dec. 6 to Dec. 11.

Mr. Ehrlich signed the law Sept. 17. Last week, 200 hunters were selected by lottery and licensed. Under the law, the total black bear limit is 30, and each hunter is limited to one kill.

The last legal black bear hunt took place during one week in December 1953. Bears had been legally hunted since 1937, but a census showed the animals were becoming rare and hunts were discontinued. Twelve black bears were counted in Maryland in 1956.

State officials resumed counting the species in 1993 and reportedly found 227 black bears in Maryland in 2000. Earlier this year, the count was 500.

The Fund for Animals and the Humane Society say the DNR census is inaccurate. Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle said Mr. Ehrlich and the DNR are only trying to appease the National Rifle Association and trophy hunting organizations.

The three local residents identified in the petition agree. They say in court documents that black bears are peaceful and become dangerous only when they are threatened and hunted.

Tracey McIntire of Laurel and Barbara Dowell of Bowie own properties in the western counties, where they usually vacation in the fall, according to the petition. The petition states Miss McIntire thinks legal black-bear hunts are likely to increase taxes on her property.

David Michael Stricker of Holbrook is one of six adult children who likely will inherit a Garrett County property near Deep Creek Lake where they often vacation and their father photographs black bears, the petition says.

The black bear hunt this year already has cost Maryland $23,951, according to the petition, which says that is a minimum estimate.

Black bears can live from 21 to 33 years, eating nuts, acorns, fruit, insects and succulent greens, according to the Humane Society and the Fund for Animals. The bears eat meat only when their dietary choices are not available.

The bear population grows slowly because most mother bears give birth every two years, although births can produce up to three cubs, the petition says.

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