- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 3, 2005

Maryland, which plays the politically correct card far more frequently than its immediate neighbor, Virginia, is once again agonizing over its black bear population. The little state has a dilemma: what to do about an increase of black bears — particularly in the westernmost counties — while mollifying shrill animal-rights protesters who object even if someone wants to use a mouse trap.

Maryland game officials last year were in a quandary about holding the first bear hunting season in many decades, and when it finally came to pass, a scant 20 bruins were shot in one day. The hunt was abruptly halted. Something about being on the “safe” side, protecting a valuable resource.

“Horse hockey,” Allegany County’s Brent Nelson said. “Twenty bears didn’t even put a dent in a bear population that plainly is much larger than the DNR will admit. They could have killed a couple of hundred and it wouldn’t have mattered.”

Along comes Virginia, steeped in a hunting tradition that dates back to the 17th century yet well aware of its natural resources and how to manage them without endangering any of its wildlife species.

During the 2004 season, Virginia hunters killed 1,130 black bruins. (They had one season not long ago when the number reached 1,510.)

Maryland’s DNR now says it has reviewed the data from last year’s hunt, which many outdoorsmen in the state considered a joke. It says it has carefully looked at the data from the 2004 season and also taken into account bear mortalities that did not involve hunters, plus other population monitoring surveys, and for the 2005 season will set a kill quota of 40 to 55 bears.

In typical Annapolis government gobbledygook, the director of huntable game (his real title is Wildlife & Heritage Service director) Paul A. Peditto said, “Our comprehensive population monitoring models continue to support that Maryland’s black bear population is growing in western Maryland. [The] DNR will continue to manage western Maryland’s bear population conservatively, ensuring that future generations will be able to enjoy bears on the landscape. With that in mind, we have selected a range for this year’s quota to help us better respond to hunting pressure and success rates while remaining below the maximum harvest quota that we could have selected.”

Peditto uses the word harvest in relation to shooting and killing bears. Dear sir, during various hunting seasons, bears and other game animals are killed, not harvested. Corn and potatoes are harvested. You need to learn to accept the word “kill,” even if the Fund for Animals and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals don’t like it.

Last year’s hunt in Maryland’s two westernmost counties, Garrett and a portion of Allegany, was the first black bear hunt in more than 50 years. A maximum of 200 bear permits were issued, but the scheduled five-day hunt was closed after 20 bears were taken in one day.

What was that all about? Two hundred permits over a five-day hunt and then the whole shebang was shut down when 20 successful shooters showed up on the first day?

This year’s quota-driven hunt will take place Oct. 24-29 and Dec. 5-10. All hunters again will be required to call in each evening to learn if the quota has been met. Once it is, the hunt will be closed.

Here’s betting the hunt will be halted when 30 bears are brought to the checking stations on opening day.

In Virginia, meanwhile, a state that is much larger than Maryland and has many times the available public hunting acreage for its citizens, there is simply a bear hunting season. To be sure, its game biologists study the bear population just as diligently as those from Maryland, but they set a date for all the types of hunting and then get on with it.

Consequently, in 2004, Virginia archers bagged 205 bears (18 percent of the total, but a decrease over the previous year when archers shot 446). Still, the archery kill was close to the previous 35-year average of 17 percent of the total number of bears taken.

Firearms hunters killed 308 bears (27 percent of the total kill), usually during an overlapping deer season. A total of 536 bears (47 percent of the total and slightly less than the average of 51 percent) were shot during the hound-and-hunter season, a little fewer than the 552 killed the previous year. Also, 91 bears were checked during the four-day muzzleloading season.

As an interesting aside, the majority of the statewide bear kill (725) came from the eight counties that contain the Shenandoah National Park. However, even the Dismal Swamp accounted for bear hunting successes.

• Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washington-times.com.

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